Oregon’s Decriminalization of Drug Possession


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By Madeline Olds, Staff Writer

On Election Night 2020, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize possession of heroin, methamphetamines, oxycodone, and all other drugs. [1] Measure 110 was passed with a 58.46% approval vote, a discrepancy from the 55% in the CNN article due to the week it took to receive all of the mail in ballots. [2] Measure 110 will give Americans the opportunity to see how Oregon’s criminal justice system treats those with possession of drugs as it is the first state to take such a significant measure.

As described on the ballot, Measure 110 stated that a yes vote “supported making personal non-commercial possession of a controlled substance no more than a Class E violation (maximum fine of $100 fine) and establishing a drug addiction treatment and recovery program funded in part by the state’s marijuana tax revenue and state prison savings.” [3]   Instead of going to prison, those who are caught in possession of a drug under a Class E violation can either pay the $100 fine or go to a drug addiction treatment and recovery program. [4] This will be partly funded by the state marijuana tax, as Oregon is one of 15 states to have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical use and have regulated the industry surrounding it. [5] Oregon state law still provides that possession of certain drugs in larger amounts could still result in a misdemeanor. [6]

The decision for decriminalization is controversial in an America with a severe addiction problem. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2017, 19.7 million American adults aged 12 and older battled a substance abuse disorder. [7] In 2019, this number grew to 20.4 million. [8] In Oregon alone, one in eleven people are reportedly addicted to drugs, and just under two people die every day in the state due to an overdose from drug use. [9] With substance abuse disorder being so high, individuals on both sides of the argument wonder whether decriminalization would hurt or help.

Proponents of decriminalization state that decriminalization is a better health approach versus one of punishment. [10] Jailing drug users, can make it more difficult for those affected to find housing and jobs after prison, which can lead to the return of drug use. [11] Oregon Criminal Justice Commission states they plan to reduce possession convictions by 90% with the use of Measure 110. [12] With Measure 110, people can receive help and gain control of their addiction by offering health services that they might not have been able to afford. [13] Proponents cite to countries like Portugal, whose decriminalization efforts not only brought a decrease in drug fatalities, but also brought no surge in drug addiction. [14] Another issue proponents cite to is the decrease in disparity between racial and ethnic arrest and convictions for drug use. [15]

Opponents of decriminalization state that decriminalization will allow for widespread drug use because there would be no consequence for possession of drugs. [16] The desire and ability to seek out drugs would be greater because of less legal risk, therefore leading to a higher increase in addiction and use, especially among youth. [17] Twenty-four district attorneys in Oregon believe the measure to be reckless and increase acceptability of dangerous drugs. [18]  However, the district attorney elect and two others backed the measure. [19]

Whether one is a proponent or opponent, Oregon’s Measure 110 is taking strides to reduce drug use and addiction in their states. Measure 110 may be the start of America’s new approach to drug possession in the criminal justice system. Americans and Oregonians alike will have to wait to see Measure 110’s effect.

[1] https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/09/politics/oregon-decriminalize-drugs-trnd/index.html

[2] https://results.oregonvotes.gov/resultsSW.aspx?type=SMEA&map=CTY


[4] https://apnews.com/article/oregon-first-decriminalizing-hard-drugs-01edca37c776c9ea8bfd4afdd7a7a33e

[5] Id.

[6] https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/09/politics/oregon-decriminalize-drugs-trnd/index.html

[7] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2017-nsduh-annual-national-report


[9] https://apnews.com/article/oregon-first-decriminalizing-hard-drugs-01edca37c776c9ea8bfd4afdd7a7a33e

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] https://www.addictioncenter.com/news/2020/11/oregon-decriminalizes-drug-possession/

[13] Id.

[14] https://apnews.com/article/oregon-first-decriminalizing-hard-drugs-01edca37c776c9ea8bfd4afdd7a7a33e

[15] Id.

[16] https://www.addictioncenter.com/news/2020/11/oregon-decriminalizes-drug-possession/

[17] Id.

[18] https://apnews.com/article/oregon-first-decriminalizing-hard-drugs-01edca37c776c9ea8bfd4afdd7a7a33e

[19] Id.

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