Oregon will offer rehabilitation to drug addicts instead of prison

Effective from yesterday, Oregon has become the first US state to decriminalise drug usage, placing an emphasis on rehabilitation instead of prison time.

In November 2020, Oregon voted and successfully passed Measure 110: a reform to decriminalise the possession of small drug quantities.

Yesterday, the law went into effect, making Oregon the first US state to eliminate a criminal penalty for drug usage and offer addiction services instead.

Image: Miami Herald

The reform was raised in response to the nation’s controversial incarceration of drug addicts and disproportional imprisonment of people of colour. Chief petitioner of the measure, Anthony Johnson, commented that “people realised Measure 110 was ultimately about people, not drugs… it’s about what you want to do for your loved ones”. 

The law will be implemented for the next decade by state officials at the Oregon Health Authority. The provision takes a health-care-based approach, offering addicts treatment instead of prison time.

Victims will be fined $100 and a citation that will be dropped if they agree to a health assessment.

Officials hope to break down the barriers towards wellness that are built when criminalising drug addicts. Kassandra Frederique, director of the Drug Policy Alliance stated: “ending criminalisation will do leaps and bounds around ending shame”. 

The legislation will also place a statewide responsibility on addiction and recovery services, a move which will ultimately cost the taxpayer less than a focus on incarceration.

The services will be significantly expanded using marijuana taxes ($102 million revenue in Oregon, 2019) and provide free screening, treatment, and referral services.

Critics against the reform are concerned that the laws will simply encourage further drug usage, particularly with young people and therefore more overdoses.

Despite the scrutiny, the reform has received an abundance of support during the campaign. This including donations from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg) with the hope that Oregon could set a precedent for the US.

Given that overdoses in Oregon have skyrocketed by 70% in the past year due to Covid-19, education may be the way to go.

Australia also might benefit from placing an emphasis on rehabilitation over incarceration, considering the nation’s upward trend of drug overdosing, (over 2,000 deaths per year) according to The Penington Institute.