Oregon became Tuesday the first state in the nation to decriminalize hard drugs, passing a Democratic-backed ballot measure lifting criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin, LSD, ecstasy and meth.
Measure 110 led comfortably Wednesday by 58.6% to 41.4% with 80% of the vote counted, according to unofficial results from the Oregon secretary of state.
The measure’s supporters, led by the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, cheered the vote as a sign that “the time has come to stop criminalizing people for drug use” and predicted the effort would spread to other states.
“Measure 110 is arguably the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date,” Kassandra Frederique, alliance executive director, said in a statement. “It shifts the focus where it belongs — on people and public health — and removes one of the most common justifications for law enforcement to harass, arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, and deport people.”
She said that just as “we saw with the domino effect of marijuana legalization, we expect this victory to inspire other states to enact their own drug decriminalization policies that prioritize health over punishment.”
Measure 110 reclassifies possession of small amounts of illicit drugs from a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $6,250 fine, to a Class E civil offense subject to a citation and $100 fine.
The measure also reduces felony drug possession violations involving larger quantities of drugs in most cases to misdemeanors, and establishes a Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund, paid for in part by marijuana taxes, to establish addiction centers that will assess and refer clients for treatment.
Opponents, including the Oregon GOP, police chiefs and most district attorneys, argued that the measure will worsen the drug crisis in a state that already has the third-highest addiction rate in the country.
“The measure would make it so a 15-year-old can get caught with a pocket full of meth, and the only consequences would be they either have to pay a $100 fine or get a health assessment. They can hide either from their parents,” said the No on 110 campaign.
Foes also warned that the proposal would reduce funding for schools, police and existing drug-abuse facilities by diverting funding to the addiction centers, while not adding any treatment beds.
“We are disappointed that Oregon voters have been misled into decriminalizing heroin, meth, cocaine, oxycodone,” No on 110 advocate Jim O’Rourke told the Oregonian. “Both sides need to come together with the governor and Legislature and give the voters what they really intended — saving lives and more treatment beds.”
The anti-110 campaign faced an uphill battle from the start. Proponents outraised the opposition by a lopsided $5.2 million to $92,000, according to Ballotpedia, with Drug Policy Action contributing $4 million to the Yes on 110 campaign.
Supporters included much of the Oregon Democratic political establishment, including the Oregon Democratic Party, labor unions and Planned Parenthood, as well as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, who kicked in $500,000.
“The Oregon victory demonstrates that decriminalization is politically viable, invigorating efforts already underway in other states, including California, Vermont, and Washington, and even in Congress, where DPA has released a federal framework for drug decriminalization,” the alliance said.
The measure decriminalizes “heroin (1 gram or less), cocaine (2 grams or less), methamphetamine (2 grams or less), MDMA (less than 1 gram or 5 pills), LSD (less than 40 user units), psilocybin (less than 12 grams), methadone (less than 40 user units) and oxycodone (less than 40 pills, tablets, or capsules),” according to the ballot statement.
MDMA is better known as ecstasy or molly, and psilocybin refers to hallucinogenic mushrooms.