Oregon Voters Battle ‘War on Drugs’

Arguably, the most important choice on some people’s ballots was not who to pick for president or who to pick for state-level offices, but whether to double down or scale back the War on Drugs. Seven states had ballot measures that would relax their prohibition laws to varying extents, and all of them passed. Even conservative states such as Mississippi, South Carolina, and Montana voted to relax their marijuana laws, showing that the War on Drugs days are numbered.

The state that took the most significant leap forward was Oregon. In a 58.4 to 41.6% vote, Ballot Measure 110 was passed on Election Day. The measure does quite a few things–redistributing revenue from marijuana taxes, promoting drug addiction treatment–but most importantly, the measure will decriminalize small possessions of any and all drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, Oxycoton, marijuana, cocaine–you name it. Essentially, any small possession of a federally illicit drug–say 20 pills of Oxycoton–would be a civil offense. 

In less complicated terms, Oregon will be the first state to take a Portugal-like approach (where full decriminalization led to a decrease in overdoses, drug-related crimes, and teen drug use) to treating the “drug problem” as a healthcare issue, not a criminal one. In passing the measure, Oregon voters rejected a failed policy that has only served to bolster a broken criminal justice system and has disproportionately hammered people of color. Hopefully, we may also see a decrease in the steady flow of people being shoved into Oregon’s prison system (which is also in desperate need of reform). 

It is important to note that Oregon only decriminalized drug use and did not legalize it. You can still get a $100 fine if you are found with a much larger quantity of illicit drugs, but you can skirt around the fine if you agree to complete a health assessment at the newly created Addiction and Recovery Centers being set up around the state to connect addicts with healthcare services (the measure will redirect funds earmarked for prisons to fund these centers). 

June 26, 2020 file photo from video provided by the Yes on Measure 110 Campaign shows volunteers delivering boxes containing signed petitions in favor of the measure to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office in Salem.