By Zachary Siegel
Getting caught with drugs like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine normally leads to arrest, jail time, and a criminal record. But that could change in Oregon, which in November could become the first state in the nation to decriminalize possession of personal amounts of drugs, weighing between a gram or two depending on the substance.
Known as Measure 110, or the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, the citizen-led ballot initiative would swap arrests and criminal penalties for a noncriminal $100 citation, and it would fund more treatment services. This would mark a momentous shift in favor of a public health-focused approach to substance use, and a turn away from policies that incarcerate people or at least saddle them with a criminal conviction over behaviors tied to addiction.
“What we’re really trying to do is move substance use out of a criminal justice model and into a healthcare model where it belongs,” said Haven Wheelock, one of the initiative’s chief petitioners. Wheelock also works at downtown Portland’s Outside In, providing services to homeless youth and people who use drugs. “Punishing people for a substance use disorder is an ineffective way of changing people’s drug use behavior. We know that because we’ve been trying for a hundred years to punish people into not using substances, and it hasn’t worked.”