A new Oregon bill decriminalizes heroin, cocaine and other drugs. If caught, possession of small amounts lead to a misdemeanor, instead of a felony. The bill “aims to curb mass incarceration” (Lewis, 2017, p. 1).
Oregon lawmakers seek to encourage drug users to look for help instead of filling up their state’s prisons. The Oregon legislature passed a bill last week that reclassified possession of various drugs, ranging from felonies to misdemeanors. This will hopefully reduce punishments and further expand drug treatment for people without prior charges for drug possession.
“‘We are trying to move policy towards treatment rather than prison beds,’ said state Sen. Jackie Winters (R), co-chair of the Public Safety Committee and a supporter of the bill. ‘We can’t continue on the path of building more prisons when often the underlying root cause of the crime is substance use’” (Lewis, 2017, n.p.).
In addition, the bill is geared towards reducing potential racial profiling through data collection and analysis. These new methods will help police departments realize when their policies or procedures result in disparities.
Oregon will be included with several other states that have reduced possession punishments if the bill is signed into law. Proponents say that the bill marks a significant milestone in regards to addressing racial disparities in America’s jail system, which has developed as a result of the “War on Drugs” approach to crime. It takes the current opioid crisis into consideration as more of a public health concern rather than a criminal problem, as it has done in the past.
“‘Too often, individuals with addiction issues find their way to the doorstep of the criminal justice system when they are arrested for possession of a controlled substance,’ Kevin Campbell, executive director of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, wrote in a letter of support for the bill. ‘Unfortunately, felony convictions in these cases also include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities’” (Lewis, 2017, n.p.). Various law enforcement agencies worked closely with lawmakers of the bill to draft portions of it.
On the other hand, the majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate voted against the bill along with some Democrats. “I fully support the collection of data to monitor racial profiling, but I am opposed to reducing drug classification,” said State Representative, Andy Olson. (Lewis, 2017)
For more information on this topic please read “Oregon bill decriminalizes.”
Lewis, N. (2017, July 11). Oregon bill decriminalizes possession of heroin, cocaine and other drugs. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/07/11/oregon-legislature-passes-bill-decriminalizing-heroin-cocaine-meth-possession-hoping-to-curb-mass-incarceration/?utm_term=.01c8dd8e227a