What California could learn from Oregon ending its drug war


Oregon made historical past on election day when its voters overwhelmingly backed Measure 110, an initiative to decriminalize the possession of arduous medication, together with cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, for private use. The choice makes Oregon the primary state to exit the nation’s lengthy battle on medication and to deal with substance abuse as a public well being challenge as an alternative of a criminal offense.

It needs to be obvious by now that the battle on medication failed. It led to militarization of police departments and mass incarceration, whose prices have been astronomical in each monetary and human phrases. The battle was disproportionately waged on Black and Latino communities, exacerbating racial inequities and hampering alternatives.

Throughout the nation, there’s been a motion amongst conservatives and liberals alike to deescalate the battle on medication by lowering penalties for drug use and diverting customers to therapy as an alternative of jail. In an indication of change, Congress and the Trump administration selected to border the opioid disaster as a public well being emergency somewhat than a legal justice one — maybe as a result of the disaster hit rural and suburban white communities first.

With the passage of Measure 110, Oregon will go a lot additional. It’s the primary state to get rid of easy drug possession as a criminal offense and to undertake the coverage that drug therapy needs to be voluntary, not mandated by the legal justice system. A more recent concept, it’s controversial amongst habit consultants who argue over whether or not the specter of legal penalties is important for some addicts to hunt assist.

It’s one factor to rewrite the legislation on drug possession. It’s a much more tough job to rethink drug therapy and to construct a public well being system able to supporting long-term drug restoration. Oregon is about to embark on an essential experiment. Nevertheless it’s exactly that — an experiment — and California and different states can be smart to observe and study from what goes proper, or flawed, in Oregon.

Beginning subsequent yr, any individual caught with small quantity of arduous medication might be cited for a civil violation, equal to a visitors ticket. The penalty is a $100 advantageous, which might be waived if the individual agrees to finish a free well being evaluation with an habit counselor. The counselor can recommend therapy choices or make referrals for different healthcare, housing or employment companies. There’s no arrest, no legal report and no requirement to enroll in a therapy program.

The thought behind Measure 110 is that it’s merciless, pricey and inefficient to deal with drug customers as criminals. It may be as costly to arrest and convict somebody for misdemeanor drug possession as it’s to offer therapy. Having a legal report could make it more durable for a recovering person to get housing, a job and a return to productive life.

It is a radical departure from the zero-tolerance insurance policies on drug use the U.S. embraced from the Nineteen Seventies till lately, when states began pursuing marijuana legalization and legal justice reform. And it’s essential to notice that merely decriminalizing drug possession and particular person use in Oregon is not going to resolve the opposite ills related to the unlawful medication, specifically the crime that some customers interact in to pay for medication and the gangs and violence concerned of their manufacturing, distribution and gross sales.

California has gone additional than many states in decriminalizing drug offenses. Voters right here handed Proposition 36 in 2000, which allowed low-level drug offenders to decide on therapy over jail. Proposition 47 in 2014 decreased penalties for easy drug possession. But even in California, the legal justice system and the substance abuse therapy system are nonetheless deeply entwined.

To develop a wholly new mannequin, Measure 110’s proponents seemed to Portugal, which decriminalized drug use in 2001 as a part of a national strategy to deal with drug habit as a public well being challenge. On the time, Portugal’s experiment was so surprising that the United Nations warned of penalties and a few international locations within the European Union threatened to shut their borders. Within the following years, drug overdose deaths and HIV infections dropped dramatically. At present, Portugal has one of many lowest charges of drug use in Europe.

Portugal — like Oregon — didn’t legalize arduous medication. Drug use continues to be forbidden, and it’s a criminal offense to purchase and promote medication. When police in Portugal discover somebody with a small quantity of medication, officers challenge a summons to look earlier than a regional Fee for the Dissuasion of Drug Habit, which falls beneath the Ministry of Well being. The fee can provide therapy and companies to assist the individual cease utilizing medication. Therapy isn’t necessary, though the fee can impose a advantageous or require neighborhood service if therapy is refused.

However right here’s a crucial distinction between Portugal and present-day Oregon: Portugal invested some huge cash to develop a comprehensive healthcare approach to drug use. The nation affords free, available therapy and habit companies to anybody who needs them. That may embody counseling, detox, residential restoration facilities or methadone and different medicines. The nation has additionally invested in harm-reduction packages, together with needle exchanges and protected injection websites.

Oregon has among the many highest charges of drug use within the nation and its therapy companies are among the many least accessible. Measure 110 will assist funding by redirecting marijuana tax income to pay for “habit and restoration facilities,” which might provide referrals to healthcare companies, as Portugal’s dissuasion fee does, and make grants to present therapy suppliers. However there’s actual concern that, except the Legislature ramps up funding, Oregon nonetheless received’t have sufficient restoration facilities or neighborhood well being suppliers who can deal with habit.

Regulation enforcement teams and a few restoration consultants opposed Measure 110, arguing that customers within the throes of habit are unable to make a rational resolution to hunt assist. It’s usually the arrest or the specter of jail, these critics argue, that pushes addicts into therapy and finally sobriety.

Different habit consultants disagree, contending that the U.S. is overly reliant on coercion as a path to drug therapy. If Oregon can develop a Portugal-like mannequin that helps individuals handle their drug use safely till they’re able to give up, coercion and threats is probably not wanted.

Voters in Oregon deserve credit score for taking a leap of religion. However now the arduous work begins. Oregon may turn into a proving floor for a simpler method to a cussed and damaging societal drawback. After many years of the failed battle on medication, it’s value making an attempt one thing new.


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