Steps in the Right Direction

Oregon becomes the first state in the US to decriminalize hard drugs, and other states should follow

Stella Grist

Oregon decriminalized all drugs with a bill passed by voters Nov. 3, called Measure 110. This bill caused Oregon to be the first state in the US to decriminalize hard drugs. Oregon was a pioneer in decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana, other states soon following. With the recent decriminalization of all drugs, other states should take those steps as well. 

Measure 110 was controversial for obvious reasons. Decriminalizing hard drugs is relatively unheard of in this country, as no other state has seriously considered it before. However, it should not be controversial. The idea of decriminalizing drugs is something that shouldn’t be seen as radical and something that should be put in place nationwide. In fact, Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2000, and saw impressive results. According to the Associated Press, drug related deaths fell and people being treated for addiction rose 20 percent between 2001 and 2008. Portugal’s decriminalization also brought absolutely no surge in drug use. 

A common misconception with decriminalization is that all drugs will now be legal for recreational use. However, that is not the case. Decriminalizing is entirely different from legalizing in that doing and possessing drugs still has a consequence, in that it doesn’t send people to prison for drug charges, but charging a fine or sending them to rehabilitation. 

In many cases, those who get caught with drug possession get arrested, sent to prison and when they get out they start doing substances again in an endless cycle of addiction. Imprisonment doesn’t help people overcome addictions, in fact it makes them fall deeper into the cycle. Once someone has a criminal record, whether it be for a minor drug offense or a felony, it becomes exponentially harder to get a job or find housing. With decriminalization, those addicted to substances will find it easier to recover from their addiction in rehabilitation programs and find jobs and housing to fully participate in society.  

The history of criminalizing drugs largely stems from associating those drugs with certain groups of people and targeting them. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the first anti-opium laws were directed at Chinese immigrants, the first anti-cocaine laws were targeted at African American people in the Southern US, and the first anti-marijuana laws were targeted at Mexican people. Similarly, former President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” in 1971 was an attempt to incarcerate as many people as possible. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Nixon attempted to get the general public to associate marijuana with hippies, who were famously anti-war, and heroin with black people, to incarcerate those who didn’t fit his “agenda,” then passed laws making those drugs illegal. 

The war on drugs incarcerated over 350,000 people from 1980-1997 for nonviolent drug offenses that were previously not sentenced to prison. Although Nixon is out of office, the war on drugs is still a part of society to this day.  People of color are still disproportionately incarcerated for these offenses to this day. The decriminalization of all drugs in Oregon is “arguably the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date,” executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance Kassandra Frederique said. 

Decriminalizing drugs is a step toward criminal justice reform this country desperately needs. It will push those with substance addictions toward rehabilitation and recovery and, overall, lower national drug addiction rates. Oregon was a pioneer in this movement toward drug decriminalization, and the rest of the country should follow. 

Decriminalizing drugs is a step toward criminal justice reform this country desperately needs.

— Stella Grist