The state of Oregon, long upheld as a paradise for progressive policies, became the first state to decriminalize hard drugs in the U.S.  This was done with the passage of Measure 110, which passed in the November 2020 election.

Research shows that in 2018 there were more than 1.6 million drug arrests in the United States. Over three-quarters (86%) of these drug users’ arrests were for possession of small amounts, even more were for other minor drug-related offenses, including minor selling and distribution violations.

What is decriminalization vs. legalizing?

They may sound the same, but there is a significant difference. Legalization means that there are no repercussions for sale, possession, and use of substances under a specific quantity. Apart from marijuana, most drugs will not be legal, they will just stop carrying criminal penalties.

Decriminalization means that criminal penalties are removed for the use of a substance within legal guidelines. If a user is stopped and has an amount drugs under the legal limit, they may have to pay a fine or complete a treatment program. This is very similar to what happens when you get a speeding ticket.

Why did Oregon decriminalize drugs? 

Oregon is the first state in the United States to decriminalize all drugs to increase addiction awareness, encourage people to stop using these drugs, and give people addicted to drugs more treatment options. This includes a wide array of drugs, such as crack, heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, and more. Legal drugs – such as prescription medication and marijuana, which are legal in Oregon – are not impacted by this law change. As such, legal drug use is unaffected.

What if someone is stopped for drug possession?

Before the passage of this law, a person stopped for drug possession would likely look at arrest and potentially significant jail time. Even possession of small amounts of a drug could be a major crime, resulting in felony charges.

That is no longer the case. From now on, a person who is caught with hard drugs in Oregon will have two options:

    • Pay a $100 fee.
    • Attend recovery programs that will help them address any drug problem that they may have. Funding for these programs comes from taxes that are levied on marijuana legalization.

What if I don’t have insurance?

If someone is stopped with hard drugs, they will receive treatment regardless of insurance. The taxes from marijuana legalization will fund recovery options. This means people who want to stop using and can’t get into treatment because of insurance now have an opportunity to receive life-changing treatment.

Is Oregon the only place to decriminalize drugs?

Oregon is the only state in America that has decriminalized all drugs. Drug decriminalization has been the law in a few countries in Europe, including Portugal, Switzerland, and the Netherlands for many years.

Portugal decriminalized drugs almost 20 years ago. There has been time to study the impact on the country.  They have found drug use has not decreased, yet, there has been significant progress in reducing the harm from addiction:

    • The drug use rate in Portugal remains lower than the European average and far lower rates in the U.S.
    • The number of people in drug treatment increased by more than 60% between 1998 and 2011.
    • A significant decrease in the number of new HIV diagnoses. In 2000, there were 1,575 cases – this dropped to just 78 cases in 2013.
    • New AIDS cases decreased from 626 in 2000 to 74 cases in 2013.
    • There was a significant drop in drug overdose deaths in Portugal. From 80 in 2001 to 16 in 2012.
    • There has been a 60% annual decline in the number of people arrested and sent to criminal court for drug offenses.
    • From 1999 to 2013, the number of people in prison for drug law violations dropped by almost half, from% in 1999 to 44% to The number of people arrested and sent to criminal courts for drug offenses annually% in 2013.

Will more people use drugs if they are decriminalized?

People argue that decriminalizing drug use will lead to more drug use. This was the argument used by over 24 District Attorneys in Oregon who opposed Measure 110’s enactment.

The experience of countries that legalized hard drugs shows that it did not lead to a massive surge in drug use. There are some 30 countries across the globe that have enacted some form of decriminalization of drugs. These countries and others are beginning to view addiction as a public health crisis needing a public health solution which decriminalization provides.

Portugal’s drug decriminalization did not lead to a massive rise in drug use – instead, it led to drops in overdoses, disease, and arrests. Other countries that decriminalized drugs have had similar experiences, and the hope is that Oregon drug decriminalization will lead to the same results.

The Pros and Cons of Decriminalization

Plenty of decriminalization of drugs pros and cons exist. On the one hand, many potential positives may come from the decriminalization of drugs and ending the war on drugs. Supporters noted that it could relieve the burden on an overcrowded prison and criminal justice system while pushing people into rehabilitation programs that can ultimately keep people away from using hard drugs.

It could lower the number of people convicted of felonies by around 3,700 each year and dramatically expand options for people looking for help. This, in turn, could ultimately lower demand for drugs and help people live better and happier lives.

Additional positives include decreasing the number of minorities being incarcerated for drug-related crimes. A wide array of research shows that drug criminalization typically falls hardest on ethnic minorities, and removing criminal penalties will undoubtedly ease this burden.

States can also achieve significant tax savings by reducing costs related to arrests and incarceration. The New York Times reports that more than a dollar is saved in the criminal justice system for every dollar spent on treatment. This shows that substance use costs are higher for most states when people are in the criminal justice system without treatment.

However, that is not to say that this entire venture is risk-free. Opponents of Measure 110 have argued that the measure will lead to more drug abuse and that more innocent casualties can die from drug wars and related issues.

There is a connection between hard drug use and the spread of certain diseases, like HIV and Hepatitis C. Concerns exist that decriminalization will make those diseases more likely to spread. Also concerning is whether there will be an increase in the availability of hard drugs, increasing addiction potential for high-risk people.

There is also no proof that there will even be enough options for people to get help if they are addicted. Until that time comes, fear will persist that people may not get the help they need.

If you or someone you love is addicted to drugs, seek help immediately. There are health care options out there that can help.  Call us today for more information on how to get your life, or the life of your loved one, back on track.