OPINION: US Should Follow Oregon’s Lead on Drug Decriminalization


PhotoCredit: By Amelia Templeton (OPB)

Bryan Gonzales Saldana, OwlFeed Managing Opinion Editor

This year’s election has brought forth many new questions about the future of the United States. One such topic is about how Oregon has become the first state to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, etc., with the introduction of Measure 110. 

 This is a big deal for politics and governments as it could really be the start of a new wave of reform for millions of people in jail for drug-related charges. 

This election year had many states proposing laws to legalize marijuana such as Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi. All five of these states have passed the legalization of marijuana starting next year or later. 

This is an excellent step to providing funding towards much needed programs and to stop the persecution of a drug that is beneficial to society and medicine. However, Oregon took it a step further and decriminalized many drugs in favor of rehab and counseling services instead of prison time. 

Now some may ask, what is the difference between decriminalizing and legalizing? 

Legalization refers to removing all legal prohibitions against a substance. For example, marijuana, it is available to purchase and use recreationally in many states for the adult population.

 Decriminalization instead refers to removing criminal sanctions from a substance or act, while still being illegal. For example, cocaine in Oregon is decriminalized now, so if a person is caught with it they wouldn’t be prosecuted and sent to jail. They would instead either face a fine, drug education, or counseling. 

What good does incarcerating people with addiction and substance abuse issues do? Junior Faith Ogie said, “How does an addict get off drugs from being in prison? They need to be rehabilitated and prison will not do that.” 

This new law is a big blow to the war on drugs, in which people of color and specifically black communities were damaged significantly and especially more in the ‘80s and ‘90s. “At the end of the day it’s a ploy for the prison industry to make money and fill prisons up instead of rehabilitating people in need,” Ogie said. 

Some people may think that with drugs not being so over policed and “less illegal” to have that the youth may be in danger or instead be more prone to use said drugs. Instead, with more options for substance abuse help and rehab services available instead of immediate prison time, minors could be saved and not take the path into a life where they may see drugs as their only option in the future with being locked inside a cell. 

All in all, drug addiction is a serious, life-threatening problem, and people need to be helped and cared for in humane ways. They shouldn’t be prosecuted and left to rot for years on end inside a correctional facility. 

With professional help and supervision people should be given a new start for themselves and the opportunity to change. Oregon accomplished an amazing feat and hopefully the entire United States could soon follow in similar steps.