Oregon becomes first state to decriminalize drugs if state voters agree to the election measure

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Voters of Oregon made history in Tuesday’s election when the vast majority of voters approved an election measure that decriminalised all drugs in the West Coast state.

The adoption of Measure 110 makes Oregon the first state in the state to decriminalize drugs. The measure also expanded drug users’ access to addiction treatment and health services. The initiative was led by the Drug Policy Action – the advocacy and policy arm of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance.

“Today’s victory is a groundbreaking statement that the time has come to end the criminalization of people for drug use,” said Cassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement e-mailed to Washington on Newsday.

“Action 110 is arguably the biggest blow to the war on drugs yet. 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, imprison and deport people. As we have seen with the domino effect of legalizing marijuana, we expect this victory to inspire other states to pursue their own policies of decriminalizing drugs that prioritize health over punishment,” said Frederique.

The Drug Policy Alliance spent $4 million in its campaign to promote the adoption of Measure 110, while opponents spent only $95,000, The Oregonian reported. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent $500,000 to support the initiative, while the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and the national ACLU each contributed $150,000.

Singer John Legend tweeted his support for the initiative in late October.

“OREGON: I support Action 110 to decriminalize drug possession and fund additional treatment services. Please @VoteYeson110 on reforming the criminal justice system,” Legend wrote.

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office released a State Criminal Justice Commission report in August that predicted that arrests of black state residents for drug possession would be reduced by 95 percent if the measure were passed. “In addition, Native Americans in Oregon would be from overrepresented to underrepresented compared to whites,” the report said.

The measure in Oregon is expected to follow a similar model to the one in Portugal, which decriminalized drugs in 2001. The European country has achieved significant positive results since that decision, including an increase in the number of drug users voluntarily entering treatment. The number of deaths from overdose and HIV infection among drug users has also fallen sharply there.

“While the decriminalization of drugs cannot fully repair our broken and repressive criminal justice system or the damage of an unregulated drug market, the transition from absolute prohibition to the decriminalization of drugs is a monumental step forward in this struggle. It clears the way for treating drug use as a health problem, restores individual freedom, removes one of the biggest bases for abuse by the police and significantly reduces waste by the government,” said Frederique.

Meanwhile, several states across the country voted on election measures to legalize the sale and use of marijuana-which was already legal in Oregon. Although results are pending in South Dakota and Montana at the time of writing, Arizona and New Jersey joined the 11 other states that had previously legalized cannabis for recreational use by adults 21 years of age and older.

“According to the latest Gallup poll, 66 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, and this victory further reinforces that position,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement sent via e-mail to Washington Newsday. “We are ready for a major marijuana reform at the federal level. Regardless of who controls the White House, the House of Representatives or the Senate, Americans are ready for legal marijuana”.

Surveys conducted by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, in March 2019 showed that the majority of Americans support the decriminalization of all drugs.

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