Oregon made history this election day by being the first state in the nation to decriminalize possession of hard drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone and others. Many are calling the passing of Measure 110 the “biggest blow to the war on drugs to date.” Rather than going to trial and facing possible jail time, Oregonians caught in possession of these hard drugs will have the option of paying a $100 fine or agreeing to a “health assessment” at an additional recovery center.
Shifting from Criminal Punishment to Public Health
Measure 110, the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, set out to provide Oregonians with adequate access to drug addiction treatment. In addition to decriminalizing certain hard drugs, the act aims to bring recovery services, peer support and stable housing to those suffering from substance use disorder. The act shifts the focus to addressing drugs through a humane, cost-effective health-centered approach.
In 2017, law enforcement officers arrested more than 8,000 people in cases where simple drug possession was the most serious offense. Often these people were arrested again and again due to the inability to receive treatment for addiction. Measure 110 aims to expand access to drug treatment and recovery services, paying for it with cannabis tax revenue.
Oregon Decriminalizes Drugs in Small Amounts
The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act removes drug penalties on small or “useable” amounts of specific drugs. Looking at the revisions to the law, we see that possession of small amounts of a drug, such as cocaine or heroin, would result in a Class E violation, rather than a Class A misdemeanor.
Section 11. ORS 475.752 is amended to read:
(3) It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess a controlled substance unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to a valid prescription or order of, a practitioner while acting in the course of professional practice, or except as otherwise authorized by ORS 475.005 to 475.285 and 475.752 to 475.980. Any person who violates this subsection with respect to:
(a) A controlled substance in Schedule I, is guilty of a Class [A misdemeanor] E violation, except as otherwise provided in ORS 475.854, 475.874 and 475.894 and subsection (7) of this section.
(b) A controlled substance in Schedule II, is guilty of a Class [A misdemeanor] E violation, except as otherwise provided in ORS 475.824, 475.834 or 475.884 or subsection (8) of this section.
(c) A controlled substance in Schedule III, is guilty of a Class [A misdemeanor] E violation.
(d) A controlled substance in Schedule IV, is guilty of a Class [C misdemeanor] E violation.
(e) A controlled substance in Schedule V, is guilty of a violation.
What is Considered a Useable Quantity of a Controlled Substance?
The question many people are wondering now is, what is considered a useable quantity of a specific drug? Looking at the updates to the law, it will depend on the drug itself. For example, let’s look at section 13. ORS 475.834 in regard to oxycodone.
Section 13. ORS 475.834 is amended to read:
(1) It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess oxycodone unless the oxycodone was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of professional practice, or except as otherwise authorized by ORS 475.005 to 475.285 and 475.752 to 475.980.
(2)(a) Unlawful possession of oxycodone is a Class [A misdemeanor] E violation.
(b) Notwithstanding paragraph (a) of this subsection, unlawful possession of oxycodone is a
Class C felony if[:] the
[(A) The person possesses a usable quantity of oxycodone and:]
[(i) At the time of the possession, the person has a prior felony conviction;]
[(ii) At the time of the possession, the person has two or more prior convictions for unlawful possession of a usable quantity of a controlled substance; or]
[(iii) The] possession is a commercial drug offense under ORS 475.900(1)(b); or.
(c) Notwithstanding paragraph (a) of this subsection, unlawful possession of oxycodone is a Class A misdemeanor if the
[(B) The] person possesses 40 or more pills, tablets or capsules of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of oxycodone.
The act does include what amount in a person’s possession results in a Class A misdemeanor. In this example, possessing 40 or more capsules with a detectable amount of oxycodone results in a misdemeanor.
When Does Measure 110 Take Effect in Oregon?
Decriminalization provisions of Measure 110 take effect on February 1, 2021. The Oregon Health Authority, Health Systems Division Behavioral Health Services have until no later than February 1, 2021, to establish a statewide temporary telephone Addiction Recovery Center. The temporary phone center shall be staffed 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. After an Addiction Recovery Center has been established in each coordinated care organization service area, the temporary phone center shall be terminated. This shall be no later than October 1, 2021.
Each aspect of the measure shall be in place no later than October 1, 2021, with decriminalization provisions taking place on February 1.
First State, But Not First in the World
Oregon may be the first state to decriminalize hard drugs, but we’re not the first in the world. This approach to drug addiction treatment, moving from a criminal focus to public health, comes after several countries – including Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland – already decriminalized small amounts of hard drugs. Many supporters of the act look to the success of Portugal. Portugal’s decriminalization in 2000 brought no surge in drug use and drug deaths fell while the number of people treated for drug addiction in the country rose, according to Portuguese officials via the Associated Press.
Oregon hopes that this big step in moving a health-based approach instead of criminal punishment will devote significant new resources to help those who need it. The measure passed with 59% of roughly 2 million votes counted.