All Drugs Have Now Been Decriminalized In Oregon


Ben Taub


Ben Taub

Freelance Writer

Benjamin holds a Master's degree in anthropology from University College London and has worked in the fields of neuroscience research and mental health treatment.

Freelance Writer


Drug use is set to become a medical issue rather than a criminal one in Oregon. Image: Leszek Czerwonka/

Oregon has become the first US state to take the dramatic step of ending criminal penalties for drug possession, after voters backed a ballot measure calling for decriminalization during the recent presidential election. This means that those caught with heroin, cocaine and other illicit substances will now be offered treatment for drug abuse rather than face prosecution.

It’s important to note that decriminalization is not the same as legalization, and that it remains illegal to manufacture or sell drugs in Oregon. However, those who are caught in possession of quantities of narcotics that are deemed suitable for personal use will no longer be hit with criminal charges. Instead, they will be given the option to pay a $100 fine or sign up for treatment.

The measure was introduced in an attempt to stem the spiralling opioid epidemic that has seen overdose deaths skyrocket throughout the US in recent years. By offering addicts support it is hoped that more will be able to access the help they need to kick their habit before it is too late. Furthermore, proponents of decriminalization say that it can reverse some of the harms generated by the War on Drugs.

For example, a recent analysis conducted by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission indicated that decriminalizing narcotics would result in a 95 percent decrease in racial disparities in drug arrests. Historically, prohibitionist policies have disproportionately affected black and Hispanic communities, yet the Drug Policy Alliance, which put forward the new measure, says that this new bill will go some way to levelling the playing field.

Inspiration for the initiative came largely from Portugal, where addiction and overdose rates were among the highest in the world until the government decriminalized all drugs in 2001. Since then, the Iberian country has seen a huge drop in the number of people suffering from drug abuse disorders, while HIV infections as a result of needle sharing have also plummeted.

The Drug Policy Alliance says that the new measure will save the state up to $100 million as a result of fewer arrests and incarcerations, all of which is intended to be used to pay for the new support services. This, it says, can be bolstered by the 140 million that the state raises each year in tax revenues as a result of legal marijuana sales.

Paradoxically, however, many of the substances that have been decriminalized in Oregon remain illegal under federal law, so it remains to be seen how the new legislation is implemented.


  • tag
  • cocaine,

  • addiction,

  • drugs,

  • heroin,

  • Oregon,

  • decriminalization