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March 7, 2021

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Oregon decriminalizes possession of street drugs, becoming first in nation

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Oregon made history Tuesday in the movement to reconsider the nation’s war on drugs by becoming the first state to decriminalize small amounts of heroin and other street drugs.

Voters overwhelmingly supported Measure 110, a coup for the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, the same criminal justice reform group that backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization effort in 2014.

Partial returns Tuesday showed the measure winning 62.5% to 37.5%.

Supporters believe U.S. drug policy has filled the country’s jails with nonviolent offenders who need treatment instead of incarceration and has disproportionately affected generations of Black people.

The Drug Policy Alliance poured more than $4 million into the decriminalization campaign, far outspending the $95,000 raised by opponents.

Other major funders of the effort included Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who along with his wife Priscilla Chan gave $500,000, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which gave $150,000, and national ACLU, which gave another $150,000, per state campaign finance reports.

The measure also got a boost from singer John Legend, who recently tweeted his support.

Still, the past two weeks featured a scrappy resistance led by critics, including former Gov. John Kitzhaber, who argued the measure would undermine the role of courts in getting people into drug treatment and would not guarantee much-needed treatment beds.

Last week, opponents filed a lawsuit in Washington County Circuit Court asking that all Measure 110 votes in that county be tossed because of an error on the ballots that creates confusion over the measure’s financial impact.

The measure has three key components:

• It reduces misdemeanor drug possession to a non-criminal violation on par with a traffic offense. People with small amounts of drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, LSD, psilocybin, methadone and oxycodone will get a ticket and face a $100 fine or have the option of being screened for a substance abuse disorder.

• It reduces penalties for what are now felony drug possession cases, which involve larger quantities. Under Measure 110, most of those offenses will be misdemeanors.

• It funnels millions in marijuana tax revenue toward what it calls Addiction Recovery Centers, where people can be screened and directed to treatment options. Those tax dollars will also go to a Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund overseen by the state that could be used to pay for treatment, housing or other programs designed to address addiction.

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