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Oregon legalises drugs

Oregon is the first US state to decriminalise hard drugs

Voters passed a groundbreaking law to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, and more, while providing a boost to treatment and recovery

Oregon voters have passed a groundbreaking law to decriminalise the possession of hard drugs including heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, supporting the decision by a wide margin at the Tuesday ballot. This makes the state the first in the US to reject charging users of hard drugs with criminal offences.

Instead, the changes outlined in the new measure aim to redirect people to services for treatment and rehabilitation. Rather than face potential jail time, people found in possession of hard drugs for personal use will be ordered to pay a $100 fine or attend addiction recovery centres, funded by the millions of dollars in tax revenue generated by Oregon’s legal marijuana industry.

Also covering the possession of small amounts of drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, psilocybin, and oxycodone, the measure is set to take effect 30 from Tuesday’s election. “It’s been a monumental night for drug policy reform,” writes Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the New-York based Drug Policy Alliance – which backed Measure 110 – in a statement that calls it: “arguably the biggest blow to the drug war to date.”

The decriminalisation of hard drugs has previously been linked to lower drug-related deaths and an increase in prevention and rehabilitation, as resources are freed up and drug users are encouraged to seek treatment. Portugal has seen drug deaths fall and treatment rates rise following a similar, oft-cited move in 2000, with countries such as the Netherlands and Switzerland also reporting positive results.

The US election night also saw the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, as part of a nationwide push to relax drug laws (Oregon also led the way with decriminalising marijuana possession back in 1973).

However, the fight isn’t completely over. In her statement, Frederique urges those that support decriminalisation to keep up the momentum, writing: “the continued enforcement of marijuana prohibition laws is responsible for more than 500,000 arrests in the United States every year, disproportionately impacting Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people.”

“Our country still arrests one person every 23 seconds for drug possession.”

There is also the contentious issue of what will happen to those already incarcerated for drug offences. In many cases, people serving sentences for cannabis-related charges have been forced to look on while America’s legal cannabis business continues to thrive. Even those that are released continue to face stigmas and significant hurdles when it comes to rebuilding their lives.