As states are still debating over the legalization of marijuana, Oregon has decided to take the drug issue a step further. As of Wednesday morning, Oregonians voted to decriminalize hard drugs like meth, cocaine, and heroin in a 59-41% vote.
Oregon’s vote comes amid a nationwide push to relax drug laws and to seek other solutions to dealing with drug addiction and other issues without resorting to imprisonment, which is shown to be an ineffective deterrent to those who illegally buy narcotics. According to the Associated Press, “the Oregon drug initiative will allow people arrested with small amounts of hard drugs to avoid going to trial, and possible jail time, by paying a $100 fine and attending an addiction recovery program.”
The treatment centers will be funded from revenues generated by sales of legalized marijuana. “Today’s victory is a landmark declaration that the time has come to stop criminalizing people for drug use,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Attitudes regarding the measure fell mostly along party lines, with Democrats supporting the decriminalization of hard drugs and Republicans condemning the proposal. The AP also reported that “Oregon voters also approved a measure making the state the first to legalize the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms.”
Oregon’s vote does not legalize the use of hard drugs, but it could provide a better way to avoid overcrowding prisons while decreasing recidivism. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, programs similar to those the state would be providing for those caught with hard drugs tend to be more effective than relying solely on imprisonment.
According to the American Public Health Association, only 11% of prison inmates incarcerated on drug charges receive treatment for their addictions. The rest are just imprisoned without any other way to deal with the underlying problem. This means that these individuals are far more likely to get back on drugs while in prison or after being released, which maintains the usual level of recidivism.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons points out that when people are given treatment, whether inside of a prison or outside, they reduce the chances of relapse, recidivism, and criminality. To put it simply, using treatment options is a much better way to deal with drug addiction than just throwing people into cages.
The vote in Oregon could influence the policy in other states, especially ones that are left-leaning. But while their solutions may not be perfect, conservatives and libertarians have an opportunity to put forward their own solutions since it is clear that the way states are handling the issue right now is not working. Using prison to punish drug use does not benefit the inmate or society as a whole.
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