Decriminalization of Drugs in Oregon
February 1, 2021, is a landmark in United States drug policy. All but six states in the country have some form of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. Fifteen states and Washington D.C have fully legalized the recreational use of marijuana. On this date, Oregon took it a step further and decriminalized the possession of all drugs. Possession in Oregon will now result in a one-hundred-dollar fine OR a health assessment to determine if addiction counseling is required. This is significant for several reasons. Mental health and substance abuse issues are tightly correlated. This often leads to a dual diagnosis. The Journal of the American Medical Association state that fifty percent of people with severe mental health disorders also suffer from substance abuse disorder. They also reported that thirty-seven of people who abuse alcohol have a severe mental health disorder, as well as fifty-three percent of drug users. Finally, the report states that twenty-nine percent of all people who suffer from a mental health disorder have this dual diagnosis.
The American Addiction Center makes two striking assertions, based on their 2017 data. The first assertion is that of the seventy-four percent of Americans who suffer from substance abuse disorder; thirty-eight percent of that number is an addiction to illicit substances. The second assertion is that substance abuse disorder costs 740 billion dollars a year. The arrest data from 2018 seem to support that data. In 2018, 1.6 million people were arrested on drug charges, eighty-six percent of those arrests being for possession. This is a direct result of the “war on drugs”. The war on drugs began in the eighties under Reagan, which coincided with the explosion of for-profit-prisons. In 2015, the prison industrial complex generated 3.5 billion dollars. Although a recent executive order declines the renewal of the government’s contract with privatized prisons, many argue it doesn’t go far enough. That being said it is a major step in combatting the war on drugs. This coupled with, at minimum, the de-felonization of illicit drugs would open the door for de-criminalization and improved treatment for the substance abuse disorder.
In 2001, Portugal became one of the first countries to decriminalize all drugs for personal use. This gives us twenty years of data to evaluate and analyze. During this time, Portugal has seen a decrease in injectable related HIV cases and drug-related deaths but did not see a rise in overall drug use. Portugal expanded welfare and rehabilitative assistance, in addition to setting a Universal Base Income (UBI). The results are as follows, drug use fell below the European average, usage in the 15 - 24 age range decreased, lifetime usage slightly increased at the same rate as other European countries. That said, long-term drug use declined, including injectables. Overall, drug-related deaths also declined, as evidenced by the lack of evidence in postmortem toxicology reports. Research has shown that this method works. If this policy were to be adopted nationwide; we would likely see improved national mental health, as the symptoms would no longer be masked by self-medication.
In summation, de-criminalization works. It frees up government money that would ordinarily go towards prison funding, it mitigates bloodborne pathogen rates and reduces drug-related deaths. Oregon is way ahead of the national curve.