FILE - In this May 24, 2019, file photo a vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles. Voters in Oregon in November 2020 will decide on a measure that would legalize therapeutic, regulated use of psilocybin. The measure would require the Oregon Health Authority to allow licensed, regulated production and possession of psilocybin exclusively for administration by licensed facilitators to clients. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

FILE - In this May 24, 2019, file photo a vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles. Voters in Oregon in November 2020 will decide on a measure that would legalize therapeutic, regulated use of psilocybin. The measure would require the Oregon Health Authority to allow licensed, regulated production and possession of psilocybin exclusively for administration by licensed facilitators to clients. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Oregon could become 1st US state to decriminalize hard drugs

Users would have the option of paying $100 fines or attending new, free addiction recovery centres

In what would be a first in the U.S., possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, LSD and other hard drugs could be decriminalized in Oregon under a ballot measure that voters are deciding on in Tuesday’s election.

Measure 110 is one of the most watched initiatives in Oregon because it would drastically change how the state’s justice system treats people caught with amounts for their personal use.

Instead of being arrested, going to trial and facing possible jail time, the users would have the option of paying $100 fines or attending new, free addiction recovery centres.

The centres would be funded by tax revenue from retail marijuana sales in the state that was the country’s first to decriminalize marijuana possession.

It may sound like a radical concept even in one of the most progressive U.S. states — but countries including Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland have already decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs, according to the United Nations.

Portugal’s 2000 decriminalization brought no surge in drug use. Drug deaths fell while the number of people treated for drug addiction in the country rose 20% from 2001 to 2008 and then stabilized, Portuguese officials have said.

The U.N. Chief Executives Board for Coordination, chaired by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, is also advocating a different approach.

In a 2019 report, the board announced its commitment to “promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use.”

Doing so would also “address prison overcrowding and overincarceration by people accused of drug crimes,” said the board, which is made up of the leaders of all U.N. agencies, funds and other bodies.

Oregon’s measure is backed by the Oregon Nurses Association, the Oregon chapter of the American College of Physicians and the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians.

“Punishing people for drug use and addiction is costly and hasn’t worked. More drug treatment, not punishment, is a better approach,” the groups said in a statement.

Opponents include two dozen district attorneys who urged a no vote, saying the measure “recklessly decriminalizes possession of the most dangerous types of drugs (and) will lead to an increase in acceptability of dangerous drugs.”

Three other district attorneys back the measure, including the top prosecutor in Oregon’s most populous county, which includes Portland, the state’s largest city.

“Misguided drug laws have created deep disparities in the justice system,” said Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt. “Arresting people with addictions is a cruel punishment because it slaps them with a lifelong criminal record that can ruin lives.”

Jimmy Jones, executive director of Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action, a group that helps homeless people, said arresting people who are using but not dealing hard drugs makes life extremely difficult for them.

“Every time that this happens, not only does that individual enter the criminal justice system but it makes it very difficult for us, on the back end, to house any of these folks because a lot of landlords won’t touch people with recent criminal history,” Jones said. “They won’t touch people with possession charges.”

The measure would decriminalize possession of less than one gram of heroin or methamphetamine; two grams of cocaine; 12 grams of psilocybin mushrooms; 40 doses of LSD, oxycodone or methadone; and one gram or five pills of MDMA.

The new addiction recovery centres that would be launched in the state would be funded by tax revenues from Oregon’s legal, regulated marijuana industry.

Marijuana tax revenues collected by the state in excess of $45 million annually would fund the centres. Doing so would reduce the amount given to schools, the state police, mental health programs and local governments, according to the ballot measure’s financial impact statement published by the Oregon secretary of state.

The Oregon revenue department said it received about $133 million in marijuana taxes during the most recent fiscal year that started in July 2019 and ended last June.

Opponents have seized on the funding reductions in an attempt to sway voters to vote against the measure and have also said that decriminalizing hard drugs would make young people more likely to start using them.

The state’s voters in 2014 legalized recreational use and sale of marijuana. But it passed by fewer than 200,000 votes of the 1.5 million counted.

Given that margin, the more controversial hard drugs decriminalization measure is unlikely to pass, said Catherine Bolzendahl, director of Oregon State University’s School of Public Policy.

But Christopher McKnight Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University, said it’s hard to gauge the outcome because voter participation seems headed for a historic high, with many first-time voters.

“We don’t know as much about their preferences,” Nichols said.

If Oregon’s voters reject Measure 110, “it may well pass next time, which has been the model for marijuana legalization, for instance, across the country,” Nichols said.

The measure’s political action committee, More Treatment for a Better Oregon: Yes on 110, received a $500,000 donation from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan via the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which supports science and education work and promotes criminal justice reform.

“If the measure passes, Oregon will shift to a health-based approach to drugs and addiction,” the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s website says.

Andrew Selsky, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

opioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man wears a mask while walking down Canyon Street in Creston on Nov. 13. Photo: Aaron Hemens
Creston resident living with COVID-19 reflects on experience

Contracting and living with the virus, she said, has led to a “major reset” in her life

Creston Town Hall is located on 10 Avenue North. File photo
Council Column: November Update

“Collaboratively, our local governments and community partners are working together to create a strong foundation for economic development and recovery,” writes councillor Jen Comer

Tia Wayling is the recreation services coordinator with the Regional District of Central Kootenay. File photo
Rec Perspectives: Winter Pickleball…It’s a Thing!

“We are seeing pickleballers braving the cold on dry days as well. Some of the local pickleball enthusiasts have even created a Facebook group and use it to message each other to let everyone know who’s up for a round of games.”

With new Provincial Health Orders, area sports teams will suspend all travel including the Trail Smoke Eaters and Trail minor hockey rep teams and some house teams. Photo: Jim Bailey.
New COVID regs suspend junior and minor hockey rep play

All West Kootenay travelling hockey teams have been grounded until Dec. 7

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

More than 70 anglers participated in the bar-fishing demonstration fishery on Sept. 9, 2020 on the Fraser River near Chilliwack. DFO officers ticketed six people and seized four rods. A court date is set for Dec. 1, 2020. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Anglers ticketed in Fraser River demonstration fishery heading to court

Sportfishing groups started a GoFundMe with almost $20K so far for legal defence of six anglers

Pictured is the Cranbrook gravel pit, located between two graveyards near the public works yard. This is where two lost kids were located by a Salvador Ready Mix driver on Thursday, November 19, 2020. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)
Two lost Cranbrook kids find their way home thanks to Salvador Ready Mix driver

The driver found the children wandering near the gravel pits in Cranbrook

Care home staff are diligent about wearing personal protective equipment when they are in contact with residents, but less so when they interact with other staff members, B.C. Seniors Advocate says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
More COVID-19 testing needed for senior home staff, B.C.’s advocate says

Employees mingling spotted as virus conductor in many workplaces

Most Read