In the recent November election, Oregon residents voted to decriminalize small amounts of previously illegal drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Oregon will become the first state in the country to enact this type of drug decriminalization law.
The ballot initiative, called Measure 110, was backed by more than 58% of Oregon voters. The new law will take effect on February 1, 2021. The law will only apply to new drug crimes moving forward, and it won’t have any impact on existing drug convictions.
Oregon’s new law doesn’t fully legalize illicit drugs. It merely changes the rules surrounding drug possession. Drug violations in Oregon are no longer punishable by jail time. Instead, someone caught carrying illegal drugs under the legal limit will receive a citation, similar to a speeding ticket.
This new law in Oregon will also fund drug addiction treatment programs using money from the state’s marijuana sales tax. Marijuana has been fully legal in Oregon since 2014. Lawmakers believe that the decriminalization law, in addition to expanded treatment funding, will significantly reduce unnecessary drug-related arrests and shine more light on public health.
What to Know About Oregon’s New Drug Law
Oregon’s new drug law can be somewhat confusing, especially if you’re not familiar with the legal terminology involved with the matter. As with any new legislation, it’s essential to understand the facts and debunk certain misconceptions. Here are some of the most common questions about this new law:
1. What drugs did Oregon decriminalize?
Oregon decriminalized most hard drugs that were previously illegal. Heroin, methamphetamine, MDMA, cocaine, LSD, and oxycodone are among the drugs that have become decriminalized. Here are the legal limits for decriminalized drugs:
- Heroin: less than 1 gram
- MDMA: less than 1 gram, or less than five pills
- Methamphetamine: less than 2 grams
- LSD: less than 40 units
- Psilocybin: less than 12 grams
- Methadone: less than 40 units
- Oxycodone: less than 40 pills
- Cocaine: less than 2 grams
2. Can everyone use all the drugs that they want?
No, Oregon did not pass the law to make the state a haven for drug users. It’s still illegal to purchase, carry, and consume illicit substances in the state of Oregon. Measure 110 will change the laws around the possession of decriminalized substances. Under the new law, carrying small amounts of any of these drugs is a civil violation that is punishable by a fine. Before, having any quantity of illicit drugs was a misdemeanor and was automatically punishable by jail time.
3. Are any drugs fully legalized in Oregon?
In the state of Oregon, marijuana is legalized. Anyone over the age of 21 can buy marijuana and use it at home or on a private property. The legal limit for public possession is one ounce, and eight ounces for possession on private property. In the last election, Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin (magic mushrooms). However, psilocybin will not be available for purchase like marijuana or alcohol. Instead, it will allow license holders to grow magic mushrooms and operate their psilocybin therapy services for people with mental health disorders and other conditions.
4. Can you still get in trouble for using decriminalized drugs?
Yes, you can still get in trouble for possessing and using decriminalized drugs in Oregon. For example, if you get pulled over by law enforcement, and they find a small amount of heroin in your glove box, you will receive a fine. But it’s dependent on the number of drugs in your possession. When people are caught with large amounts of decriminalized drugs, they can still get charged with a misdemeanor or felony, and both punishable by jail time.
5. How much is the fine for possessing decriminalized drugs in Oregon?
Suppose you are caught in possession of one of the decriminalized drugs in Oregon under the legal limit. In that case, you will have the option to pay a $100 fine or attend an addiction treatment program at a publicly-funded rehab center. After several offenses, though, the punishment may become more severe.
How Decriminalization Affects Addiction Rates
In Oregon, one in 11 people suffers from drug addiction, and nearly two Oregonians die every day from a drug overdose. Decriminalizing drugs has the potential to reduce drug use by making it less enticing for some people. It can also eliminate minor drug-related arrests and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in drug arrests and convictions.
However, there is an ongoing debate around criminalization vs. rehabilitation. Some people believe that putting people in jail is the most effective way to deal with drug crimes. When drugs became criminalized, people were less likely to use or possess them in public because the consequences were so severe.
The other side argues that jail time doesn’t address the root cause of the drug problem—it’s simply a band-aid for a paper cut. Sending people to drug treatment is a more permanent solution because it allows people to overcome their addiction and treat mental health problems. Jail time can exacerbate mental health issues, making people more likely to use substances after release.
But what does the data show? Evidence suggests that decriminalizing drugs might have a negative effect concerning drug use. Prohibition, for example, was viewed as a national failure because more people started drinking illegally. It had the opposite effect that the government had expected.
After Colorado legalized marijuana in 2014, marijuana-related hospital visits and fatal accidents increased. As of 2018, Colorado’s past month marijuana use rate for people older than 12 was 85% higher than the national average. It’s shown that more people meet the criteria for cannabis use disorder in states where marijuana is legal.
Regardless of the state in which you call home, drugs can be incredibly addictive. If you or a loved one are struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, help is available. Contact our team at (805) 209-4433 to learn about the substance abuse and mental health treatment programs available at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health in Santa Barbara.