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Oregon Voters Created ‘Framework’ for Ending War on Drugs: Analyst

Oregon’s November ballot approval of drug decriminalization may be setting the standard for the rest of America on how to end the war on drugs, says a Vox analysis.

Oregon voters approved decriminalizing all drugs, including heroin and cocaine, as well as another ballot measure to legalize psilocybin, the main psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms, in supervised therapeutic settings, becoming the “first state in modern American history” to do so, Vox said.

“This amounts to a fundamental rejection of America’s modern war on drugs,” wrote Vox analyst German Lopez.

“The central pillar of the country’s drug war is criminal prohibition — even simple possession of illegal substances carries the threat of jail or prison time. Oregon is chipping away at that regime, if not dismantling it entirely.”

While harder drugs in small amounts would be decriminalized, higher amounts would still be illegal along with the sale or distribution of the drug.

Under the measure, those caught with drugs wouldn’t be given a jail sentence like most other states in the nation, instead they’d be fined and sent to attend a free program that targets addiction and requires them to get a “completed health assessment

Addiction centers would be funded by tax revenue from retail marijuana sales.

According to Vox, it would take three massive decisions to end the war on drugs: “legalizing marijuana, decriminalizing other drugs, and allowing psychedelics for therapeutic purposes.”

As of November, Oregon has implemented all three.

Even though Oregon has legalized marijuana and decriminalized other harder substances, they still remain illegal federally. This means that someone could still get arrested for possession on the federal level or when crossing state lines into a jurisdiction where the drugs aren’t legalized.

But Vox noted that while Oregon has taken big steps in drug crime reform, it won’t completely end America’s mass incarceration problem.

Even though drugs have been connected to America’s mass incarceration problem, only one in five are incarcerated for drug offenses.

“Most US inmates are locked up for violent and other more serious offenses, not minor drug crimes,” wrote Lopez.

“This also doesn’t repair the damage already done to many communities by the war on drugs, from aggressive policing to the toll of arrests, incarceration, and criminal records on individuals and their families.”

What Oregon’s drug crime reform does acknowledge is that the criminalization of drugs doesn’t stop people from using or selling them. It also hasn’t prevented the United States from suffering a continued opioid epidemic.

According to federal data cited in the Vox article, only one in 10 people with a drug addiction actually get treatment. Oregon’s attempt to address addiction instead of criminalize it could help people get the help they need, and reduce the stigma around drug abuse, Lopez wrote.

“The hope is that more emphasis on public health, through treatment and harm reduction (which tries to reduce risk rather than eliminate it altogether), will address the problems caused by drug use that criminalization failed to address,” he added.

Advocates for criminal justice reform say that ballot measures themselves, like those passed in Oregon or the four other states that legalized Marijuana in November, still don’t do enough to enact the change that’s needed to truly make a difference.

“The truth is it would be really difficult, if not impossible, to deal with all these issues through the ballot process — requiring possibly dozens of initiatives over years and years,” wrote Lopez.

Even so, Oregon has laid a “possible framework for the US beginning to end its war on drugs.”

Oregon’s choice to pass such reform could make it so that other states “will have an easier path,” to more drug legalization and decriminalization, according to the Washington Post.

Read more: Oregon Vote May Get Police ‘Out of Drug Business’

Emily Riley is a TCR justice reporting intern.