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All eyes on Oregon as state law takes effect, decriminalizing possession of hard drugs

Law offers addicts rehab instead of prison
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Posted at 12:23 PM, Feb 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 11:15:42-05

The beginning of February means possession of small amounts of so-called hard drugs is no longer a criminal act in Oregon.

Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved the decriminalization in November.

The new law only applies to possession and does not make it legal to sell, distribute or manufacture drugs.

The Drug Policy Alliance says all eyes are on Oregon as the new law shows a shift to a public health-centered approach to drugs, from a more punitive approach of imprisonment.

“It's not only that people are no longer going to be arrested and prosecuted for possessing drugs, but there's also going to be a huge increase in access to services,” said Matt Sutton with the Drug Policy Alliance.

The new law makes possession a class E misdemeanor with no more than a $100 fine. It also establishes a drug treatment and recovery program.

That program will be funded by money saved by not arresting and prosecuting people for possession, and by some of the state’s marijuana tax revenue.

The Drug Policy Alliance says other states such as California and Vermont are watching what happens in Oregon. But there are also plans to bring it up at the federal level.

“We've also introduced a federal framework for all drug decriminalization, and we do expect a bill to be introduced in the U.S. Congress within the first three months of this year,” said Sutton.

The Drug Policy Alliance says the new law will also reduce the number of interactions with police.

A report by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission estimates the new law will result in a 95% decrease in racial disparities in drug arrests. The report states the impact could be even more significant due to disparities in police stops, jail bookings, bail and overall verdicts.