Oregon made history this Tuesday, as it became the first US state to decriminalize possession of hard drugs. The decision came amidst a nationwide push to relax drug laws, as Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota legalized recreational marijuana.  This is a major step in undoing the harmful consequences of the war on drugs, which has disproportionately targeted people of color. Arizona will also allow people with convictions for possession of marijuana  to petition courts to have their records cleared. As more states decriminalize the use of weed and other drugs, it is important to remember the work is far from over in terms of fixing drug laws. People who were  jailed for possessing marijuana  before it was legalized are not necessarily being released, and so there is still law changes that need to happen to rectify that. 

Oregon’s decision to decriminalize hard drugs will allow people arrested with small amounts of hard drugs like heroin, cocaine and LSD, to avoid trial and even serving time. Instead of being jailed, they will pay a $100 fine or attend an addiction recovery program.  The initiative will also use funds from marijuana sales taxes to fund drug addiction treatment. Although small amounts will be treated as a violation (similar to a traffic ticket) , possession of larger amounts could still result in misdemeanor charges, and commercial level amounts will still be charged as felonies. That is to say, making and selling hard drugs is still illegal. 

The measure aims to treat drug use as a health issue and prioritize treatment and recovery. By decriminalizing drug use and emphasizing rehabilitative responses, more people who are battling drug addiction will be able to get help. This means less deaths by overdose, as most overdoses are non-fatal if caught on time and treated correctly. It also means that the people who do choose to use drugs will be able to use them responsibly, with less risk of getting infections that are spread through dirty needles and such. It also means, with more drug users getting access to proper care, more people getting clean. It will also relieve a lot of the pressure on the prison system, as prisons are often overcrowded with cases of drug possession. 

The decision also served as a good distraction from the election stress. It provided some good news amidst all this chaos and anxiety. Many people were commenting and making memes and jokes about the decision online. 

A lot of people praised Oregon for their decision.

Others commented on this decision happening in the middle of the pandemic and amidst a very divisive election

Others joked about the fact that New York hasn’t legalized weed yet, referencing the pressure that New Jersey’s decision puts on its neighbors to follow suit. 

All jokes aside, Oregon’s decision is a monumental step in the right direction. Oregon’s decision will go a long way towards destigmatizing drug addiction, and promoting more rehabilitative responses to drug use. And no doubt will serve as a model for the rest of the country.

Oregon’s decision is well backed by experience. Particularly Portugal’s experience with decriminalizing drugs. In the 90’s, Portugal was suffering a major public health crisis with widespread drug abuse. It had one of the highest rates of  overdoses in Europe and highest rate of HIV among drug users. In 2001, Portugal decided, after consulting a group of experts including doctors, psychiatrists and judges, to decriminalize all drugs for personal use. Overdoses, HIV cases, and drug related crimes dropped considerably as a result.  The policy of decriminalization made it possible for more people to get the help they needed, and for health, psychiatry, employment, housing and other services to serve their communities more effectively.