Oregon has become the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to decriminalize possession of small amounts of all drugs effective today.
The shift in drug policy means that people caught with small amounts of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and meth, will no longer face criminal charges, but will be given the option of paying a $100 fine or undergoing a health assessment at a drug treatment facility.
These are the new possession limits in order to avoid a criminal charge:
- Less than 1 gram of heroin
- Less than 1 gram, or less than 5 pills, of MDMA
- Less than 2 grams of methamphetamine
- Less than 40 units of LSD
- Less than 12 grams of psilocybin
- Less than 40 units of methadone
- Less than 40 pills of oxycodone
- Less than 2 grams of cocaine
The measure also means people caught with the following amounts of drugs will be charged with simple possession, a misdemeanor offence, rather than a felony:
- 1 to 3 grams of heroin
- 1 to 4 grams of MDMA
- 2 to 8 grams of methamphetamine
- 2 to 8 grams of cocaine
Oregonians approved ballot Measure 110 in the November election; voters also supported a measure to legalize access to psychedelic mushrooms for medicinal purposes.
The measure does not make it legal to produce and sell drugs in Oregon.
Drug consumers will also be offered harm reduction, housing, and job-related services, which will be funded with more than $100 million in cannabis tax revenue plus savings on law enforcement costs stemming from the reduction in arrests.
The Oregon Criminal Justice Association estimates decriminalization will result in a 95 percent decrease in the racial disparity in low-level drug arrests in the state.
“Today, the first domino of our cruel and inhumane war on drugs has fallen—setting off what we expect to be a cascade of other efforts centering health over criminalization,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which spearheaded the campaign for Measure 110.
“Over the last year, we have been painfully reminded of the harms that come from drug war policing and the absence of necessary health services and other support systems in our communities. Today, Oregon shows us a better, more just world is possible.”
Portugal decriminalized small scale possession of all drugs in 2001. Deaths caused by drug use in the country have since plummeted, along with new cases of HIV among people who inject drugs.
Several states also voted to legalize cannabis during the November election, and Washington, D.C. voted to decriminalize mushrooms and ayahuasca. In a historic vote in December, the House of Representatives voted to decriminalize cannabis federally by passing the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. However, the act would still need to be passed by the Senate in order to become law.
In Canada, the federal government is in talks with Vancouver—which is ground zero for the opioid overdose crisis—to decriminalize personal possession of drugs there. Montreal has also asked the Canadian government to decriminalize simple possession of drugs nationally.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.