A Guide on the Decriminalization of Hard Drugs
By The Recovery Village Ridgefield
Editor Melissa Carmona
Last Updated: May 31, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
The neighboring state of Oregon recently voted to pass Measure 110, a bill that would decriminalize most drugs. It’s hoped that this approach will allow people to recover from substance abuse and addiction instead of being imprisoned. It’s a path that Washington state hopes to follow soon.
Substance abuse is often associated with a deeper mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression or PTSD. Often, rehabilitative care is needed to address both addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. If it works as intended, Measure 110 could go a long way toward reducing addiction rates, overdose numbers and incarceration levels.
What Is Oregon’s Measure 110?
Measure 110, or the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, received majority support on the November ballot with the approval of 58.46% of Oregon voters. The bill reclassifies drug possession offenses, changing them from Class A misdemeanors to Class E violations. Before, the maximum penalty for drug possession was one year in prison and a fine of $6,250. The bill changes punishment to a max fine of $100 or a health assessment — some outlets report that the fine is waived after an assessment is completed. The law took effect on February 1, 2021.
Care Over Criminalization
The bill’s passing is a stark contrast to the decades-long war on drugs, which many consider to be a failure that primarily affected minority communities. Experts say the war on drugs increased cartel activity, incarceration, overdoses and other damaging outcomes. Measure 110 signals a shift toward treating drug addiction not as criminal behavior, but as a public health crisis.
It’s important to note that decriminalization does not mean it’s legal to use drugs. Instead, it means that the penalties are lower when someone is caught possessing illegal drugs. There are still limits to the amount that a person can possess, meaning that drug dealers will still be prosecuted more harshly.
Treatment and Recovery: The True Gem of Measure 110
Decriminalization of drug possession is only half the story. Under this measure, people who would otherwise be heavily fined and imprisoned will instead be given a chance to address their addiction. When a person is found possessing illicit substances, they will be given a small fine and told to complete a health assessment through an addiction recovery center. The assessments will be funded through tax revenue created from state marijuana sales. The money saved from reduced incarcerations and arrests will also go toward funding addiction recovery programs.
Choosing the Right Recovery Center for You
While people may be told to complete a health assessment, there are some infrastructure problems in Oregon at the moment. Due to a lack of addiction recovery facilities in the state and the ongoing pandemic, many people fined under the new law will be unable to use state-funded programs. Further, in-person services may not be available until October 2021.
However, addiction treatment is still available through public and private rehab clinics.
Public clinics are funded by the state or local community organizations and can provide free or low-cost addiction treatment. Unfortunately, high demand means these facilities often have long waitlists. They also provide a more bare-bones experience compared to private offerings. Many do not provide the amenities, levels of care or long-term recovery aftercare plans found at private facilities.
Private clinics can be more expensive than public offerings, but provide added services and amenities that can lead to better recovery outcomes. These facilities typically offer a full continuum of care, beginning with a medical detox and ending with long-term aftercare. Specialized private treatment facilities can provide dual diagnosis treatment that addresses the addiction as well as any underlying mental health conditions.
Washington Following Suit?
Washington will likely follow in the footsteps of Oregon’s bill — in fact, the state was close to having a similar measure on its ballot last November. Due to the pandemic, Treatment First Washington could not safely gather signatures to place their bill on the ballot. The organization now plans to introduce legislation this year to decriminalize drugs.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, help is available at The Recovery Village Ridgefield. Our multidisciplinary team of experts can provide individualized care that fits your unique situation. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans and programs that can work well for you.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.
- Ballotpedia. “Oregon Measure 110, Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative.” 2020. Accessed January 13, 2021.
- Templeton, Amelia. “Measure 110 would make Oregon 1st state to decriminalize drug use.” Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), October 14, 2020. Accessed January 13, 2021.
- Coyne, Christopher; Hall, Abigail. “Four Decades and Counting: The Continued Failure of the War on Drugs.” Cato Institute, April 12, 2017. Accessed January 13, 2021.
- Kim, Allen. “Oregon becomes the first state to decriminalize small amounts of heroin and other street drugs.” CNN, November 9, 2020. Accessed January 13, 2021.
- Morrison, Donald. “Oregon Decriminalized Drug Possession. Now It Has to Offer Treatment.” The Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2020. Accessed January 13, 2021.
- The Olympian. “Washington should follow Oregon’s lead in decriminalizing hard drugs.” November 15, 2020. Accessed January 13, 2021.