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Oregon to Make Heroin and Coke Possession a Misdemeanor

If Governor Kate Brown signs the approved bill into law, it would give first-time offenders with small amounts of drugs less jail time and lower fines.

Allie Conti

Allie Conti

Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 2016, Oregon had the second-highest rate of opioid abuse in the country. And last week, lawmakers there decided they weren't going to try to arrest their way out of the epidemic.

On July 6, the state legislature approved House Bill 2355, which makes possession of small amounts of heroin, meth, cocaine, acid, mushrooms, peyote, and other drugs a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony for first-time offenders. The bill would also aim to get people into drug treatment before being sent to prison.

"We are tying to move policy towards treatment rather than prison beds," state senator Jackie Winters, a Republican, told the Washington Post. "We can't continue on the path of building more prisons when often the underlying root cause of the crime is substance use."

Should the bill be signed into law, the amount of each substance one can possess without being charged with a felony varies—it's up to 60 grams of mushrooms, and up to 200 "units" of acid, for instance. A person caught with heroin would only be charged with a misdemeanor, so long as they were holding less than five grams, and they didn't have an extensive criminal history.

Another part of the bill requires cops to write down information about everyone they stop so that the state can ultimately compile data on racial profiling and use it to reconfigure departments' practices, according to the Statesman Journal.

All that's left is for Governor Kate Brown to sign the bill—something she's claimed to be looking forward to, according to the Post.

"While we still have much work ahead, HB 2355 represents an important step towards creating a more equitable justice system to better serve all Oregonians," Brown emailed the Post in a statement. "Addressing disparities that too often fall along racial and socioeconomic lines should not be political issues. Here in Oregon, we're demonstrating that we can make meaningful progress to improve the lives of Oregonians by working together around our shared values."

If Brown makes the bill law, she'll be carrying on Oregon's tradition of leading the pack in reversing the war on drugs. In 1973, the state became the first to decriminalize weed, and in 2014, it became the third to legalize it. Currently, there's a group there working to get legal psilocybin on the ballot in 2020.

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