Walking Back Drug Decriminalization – Crime & Consequences

A common source of error in public policy is finding something wrong and “fixing” it by going too far in the other direction. The Oregon Legislature appears to be waking up to the reality that the state went too far in decriminalizing drugs, according to this report by AP.

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Democratic lawmakers in Oregon on Tuesday unveiled a sweeping new bill that would undo a key part of the state’s first-in-the-nation drug decriminalization law, a recognition that public opinion has soured on the measure amid rampant public drug use during the fentanyl crisis.

The bill would recriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs as a low-level misdemeanor, enabling police to confiscate them and crack down on their use on sidewalks and in parks, its authors said. It also aims to make it easier to prosecute dealers, to access addiction treatment medication, and to obtain and keep housing without facing discrimination for using that medication.

“It’s the compromise path, but also the best policy that we can come up with to make sure that we are continuing to keep communities safe and save lives,” state Sen. Kate Lieber, a Portland Democrat, told The Associated Press.

Voters passed the pioneering decriminalization law, Measure 110, with 58% support in 2020. But Democratic legislators who championed it as a way to treat addiction as a public health matter, not a crime, are now contending with one of the nation’s largest spikes in overdose deaths, along with intensifying pressure from Republicans and growing calls from a well-funded campaign group to overhaul it.

Some drug laws were, indeed, too harsh. But relatively light criminal penalties for possession for personal use are valuable in getting addicts into treatment. Drug traffickers, on the other hand, deserve to be hammered with the full force of the law as the menaces to society that they are. All this has been obvious the whole time, but for those that are just now realizing it, better late than never.

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