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Oregon Decriminalizes Drug Possession
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decriminalize drugs

Summary: Oregon is the latest state to take steps towards decriminalizing drug possession for first-time offenders.

Oregon is updating its laws so that first-time offenders caught with small amounts of drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and more will receive less harsh jail time and fines. The Oregon legislature approved the new bill that aims to lessen mass incarceration by reclassifying possession of several drugs down to a misdemeanor.

  
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The possession of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin were deemed as felonies but under the new law, those that get caught with these drugs will receive reduced punishments and more access to drug treatment programs. The only catch is that the person caught must have no prior convictions for drug possession or felonies. The goal is to encourage drug users to get help instead of sitting in prison.

State Sen. Jackie Winters, who co-chairs the Public Safety Committee, said, “We are trying to move policy towards treatment rather than prison beds. We can’t continue on the path of building more prisons when often the underlying root cause of the crime is substance use.”

The bill also hopes to reduce racial profiling through data collection and analysis so that police departments can better understand when their policies and procedures create disparities. Assuming it gets signed into law, Oregon would be joining a number of other states that have taken steps to reduce punishments for those caught with small amounts of illegal drugs. The move also reflects current struggles on what to do about drugs happening across the country as opioid addictions increase.

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The executive director of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police Kevin Campbell added, “Too often, individuals with addiction issues find their way to the doorstep of the criminal justice system when they are arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Unfortunately, felony convictions in these cases also include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities.”

State Rep Ann Lininger noted, “Sending people to jail or prison is much more expensive and not an effective way to get at the root cause of such crimes. I think it’s why so many people were able to rally around reducing the felony to a misdemeanor. We can now focus on using scarce resources to help people move forward.”



While the bill has gathered strong support from both sides as well as law enforcement agencies, a number of Republicans and Democrats voted against it. State Rep. Andy Olson explained, “I fully support the collection of data to monitor racial profiling, but I am opposed to reducing drug classification.” State Sen. Betsy Johnson agreed with Olson, suggesting that the bill was representing a “hug-a-thug policy.” She said, “The proponents of these bills mistakenly believe that drug sentences damage people’s lives, but it’s the drugs that ruin people’s lives. I would like to end the odious practice of racial profiling, but I will not be associated with a bill that decriminalizes hard drugs.”

Gov. Kate Brown will now take a look at the bill but has hinted that she already plans to sign it. She said, “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. 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.”

Do you think this is the right move for all states to make? Tell us in the comments below.

To learn more about other places decriminalizing drug charges, read these articles:



 

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