Oregon overturns drug decriminalization too soon


Although Oregon has seen issues arise since its statewide decriminalization of drugs roughly three years ago, the state’s recent decision to overturn this policy and recriminalize hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, is ill-advised. 

The original legislation came to fruition through a ballot measure in the 2020 election. Measure 110 was passed with 58% of the vote in an attempt to shift the focus on drug abuse from harsh punishment to a “health-based approach.” Under the legislation, drug offenses were reduced to a “Class E” violation, meaning only a small fine. The measure also expanded social services and treatment for substance abuse orders.

Despite the efforts of this ambitious legislation, the state has seen an increase in overdoses, particularly due to the rise in the use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. This data prompted the state to rethink its drug policy with the passage of House Bill 4002, which rolled back the drug decriminalization measure.

It is completely understandable as to why the average citizen would be against the decriminalization of drugs, especially given the overdose data coming out of Oregon since Measure 110 took effect. However, while this overdose data correlates with the passing of the policy, it would be incorrect to label Measure 110 as a causative factor.

For one, the rest of the United States is seeing similar spikes in fentanyl use, even in states that offer strict punishment for drug possession. West Virginia, for example, is amidst the worst fentanyl crisis in the United States, despite efforts from lawmakers to more strictly criminalize the drug and others like it.

Measure 110 also was only in effect for three years, which many addiction experts assert is too soon to produce meaningful results and accurate data regarding the efficacy of the policy. Tera Hurst, executive director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, argued that funding for health and treatment programs simply did not have enough time to make it to those who needed it. Oregon has also seen many promising statistics in recent years, such as the Oregon Health Authority reporting a 298% increase in client screening for substance use treatment programs.

Data has shown that decades of “War on Drugs” policies have unambiguously been a failure. Despite this, it continues to be the model used by countless state and federal legislative bodies in the United States. Measure 110 and other policies like it that seek to address the root of the drug problem are desperately needed, and its repeal will prove to be a mistake in the long run.




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