Right here lies another perfect and amazing example of how we can actively create the type of world we want to live in by raising awareness about issues in our society today that may require an upgrade. Oregon’s state legislature just cut penalties for drug possession in a bill that also aims to reduce racial profiling by law enforcement agencies.
Does it make sense that you should go to jail for carrying around these substances, some of which people are addicted to and cannot function without? Is the solution to put such people in jail for their illness? Or should we invest more time and funding into education programs and treatment facilities? It is worth noting that many of the people charged with possession are not even dealers or drug addicts; they just happen to use drugs recreationally and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Do these people really deserve the harsh punishment of jail time and a criminal record? It is one thing to sell and traffic illegal drugs, another entirely to simply have them in your possession. These laws desperately need to be reevaluated and it’s wonderful to see Oregon leading the way in this modern upheaval of an old and failed system.
It wasn’t too long ago that marijuana was decriminalized in many states and across Canada. This has proved to be beneficial for communities, judicial systems, drug trafficking — even addiction. We have seen the benefits from this move in action, so it looks like Oregon is taking note, and acknowledging that taking substances does not make someone a criminal.
Have We Learned From Portugal?
One fine example of what happens when you decriminalize illegal drugs possession can be seen in Portugal, which decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001. This includes marijuana, heroin, cocaine, meth — you name it. Portugal made the decision to treat use and possession (in small quantities) as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue.
Since passing these laws, Portugal now has one of the lowest instances of drug related deaths in Europe, a statistic that runs directly counter to the rhetoric of our anti-drug laws and the deeply misguided War on Drugs. Making these substances less illegal actually saves more lives in the end, as those suffering from drug abuse are met with a helping hand rather than a jail sentence, and this has been monumental in treating the issues that once plagued Portugal.
Portugal has proved that the decriminalization of drugs doesn’t come with the dire consequences that many predicted. The Transform Drug Policy Institute said in its analysis of Portugal’s drug laws, “The reality is that Portugal’s drug situation has improved significantly in several key areas. Most notably, HIV infections and drug-related deaths have decreased, while dramatic rise in use feared by some has failed to materialize. “
What The New Laws Entail
H.B. 2355 passed both the House and Senate in early July, and it reduces possession of illegal drugs to misdemeanours rather than felonies as long as the person in possession has no other prior convictions. A press release issued on July 7 by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum states that the bill provides for “reduction of penalties for lower level drug offenders. The bill also reduces the maximum penalty for Class A misdemeanors by one day to avoid mandatory deportation for misdemeanants.”
The text of the bill says that drugs such as MDMA, cocaine, meth, oxycodone, LSD, and heroin are decriminalized in small amounts. Each drug listed is accompanied by the following text, which indicates that possession is only a felony if:
(a) The person possesses a usable quantity of the controlled substance and:
(A) At the time of the possession, the person has a prior felony conviction;
(B) At the time of the possession, the person has two or more prior convictions for unlawful possession of a usable quantity of a controlled substance;
This bill also enforces guidelines and requirements to reduce government profiling based on an “individual’s real or perceived age, race, ethnicity, colour, national origin, language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, homelessness or disability unless the agency or officer is acting on a suspect description or information related to an identified or suspected violation of a provision of law.”
What Potential Does This Create?
Lessening these laws can make way for greater flexibility when it comes to testing the effects of certain drugs on mental illnesses. If these substances are no longer illegal, then research groups such as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and John Hopkins University can go further with their research and finally receive the funding necessary to bring these methods of treatment to the mainstream.
It will be interesting to see how these new laws unfold and what we are able to observe and learn about drug use, addiction, and criminal drug trafficking. It is my hope that we see similar results in Oregon as we did in Portugal, and that this will start a worldwide reform on drug use and punishment.
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