Last month, Oregon became the first US state to decriminalize the possession of any drug. And even though this new law doesn't come into effect until February, many state prosecutors are already dropping drug possession charges against defendants.
Nearly 60 percent of Oregonians voted to approve the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act during last month's election. This groundbreaking measure prevents police from arresting people for possessing literally any drug, and also directs the state's plentiful cannabis tax revenue to help fund new addiction recovery and treatment services.
The measure gives lawmakers until February 1 to figure out how they will implement the new services. But because the state already uses cannabis taxes to fund a wide range of programs, Gov. Kate Brown proposed delaying this program until July 2022 to give lawmakers time to figure out how they should allocate these funds.
Fortunately, 2020 has been a banner year for Oregon's legal weed industry. The state already made over $1 billion in weed sales this year, and collected nearly $50 million in tax revenue for the first quarter of the 2021 fiscal year. Even so, state officials still need to form a new advisory board that will decide how to distribute these funds to new drug treatment services, and local lawmakers expect that there will be delays in getting this program up and running.
But even if the treatment recovery funding aspects of the bill are delayed, the decriminalization provisions remain on track. In less than two months, local law enforcement agencies will be directed to treat simple drug possession cases as Class E infractions, punishable by a maximum fine of $100, with no possibility of jail time. An independent report has predicted that this historic measure will reduce racially-driven arrests in the state by as much as 95 percent.
Although the new law has yet to take effect, prosecutors in many Oregon counties are already dropping possession charges against low-level offenders. District attorneys in Clackamas and Deschutes counties began dropping drug possession charges last month, and the top prosecutor of the state's largest county just announced that his office would immediately stop prosecuting drug possession cases.
In a press release, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said that the measure's passage “sends a clear message of strong public support that drug use should be treated as a public health matter rather than a criminal justice matter. Past punitive drug policies and laws resulted in over-policing of diverse communities, heavy reliance on correctional facilities and a failure to promote public safety and health. It’s time to move beyond these failed practices, expand access to treatment and focus our limited law enforcement resources to target high-level, commercial drug offenses.”
In an internal memo to his staff, Schmidt explained that “there is no justification for using law enforcement resources to conduct arrests of individuals who are unlikely to receive treatment or who would not be able to resolve their case prior to the date of the measure,” Marijuana Moment reports.
“I applaud District Attorney Mike Schmidt and every Oregon law enforcement official that is treating personal drug possession as a health issue instead of a criminal matter,” wrote Anthony Johnson, chief petitioner for the decriminalization measure, in the Kind Leaf Journal. “The Drug War has not worked and it is time to implement a new, health-based approach... I urge everyone to support DA Schmidt and all elected officials who are following the will of the voters and turning the page on failed, harmful, and racist Drug War policies.”
Oregon also passed another historic drug reform measure this Election Day, becoming the first state to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy. Gov. Brown is already assembling an advisory board to regulate this exciting new program, and applications for these positions are open to the public.