Oregon Voters Approve Ballot Measure to Decriminalize Hard Drugs

November 4, 2020 Updated: November 4, 2020

Voters of Oregon have approved a ballot measure that would make their state the first in the nation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of hard drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

Through Measure 110, Oregon would reclassify possession of small amounts of drugs as a civil violation, similar to a traffic offense. Instead of criminal prosecution, the offender would face a $100 fine, which can be avoided by agreeing to participate in health assessments. The measure would also expand access to non-treatment services such as referrals and peer support, using funds from the state’s existing marijuana tax.

The decriminalization provisions of the measure take effect on Feb. 1, 2021. The selling and manufacture of hard drugs will remain illegal.

With 80.3 percent of precincts reporting, Measure 110 had 58.6 percent of the vote. Those who voted “No” on it on Election Day had 41.4 percent, or around 400,000 less votes.

Also passed were Measure 108, which establishes a tax on e-cigarettes and increases the cigarette tax; and Measure 109, which legalizes the use of psilocybin, the main active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” in mental health treatment under supervision.

Proponents of Measure 110 argue that the initiative will shift authorities’ focus from punishing drug addiction to handling it as a medical problem, and remove one of the major justifications for law enforcement to arrest racial minorities.

“Today’s victory is a landmark declaration that the time has come to stop criminalizing people for drug use,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the New York-based lobby group Drug Policy Alliance. “We expect this victory to inspire other states to enact their own drug decriminalization policies that prioritize health over punishment.”

Opposition to the measure came from a coalition of legal and health policy groups, including The Oregon District Attorney’s Association, Oregon Recovers, and the Oregon Council on Behavioral Health.

Heather Jefferis, the executive director of the Oregon Council on Behavioral Health, warned in an op-ed in The Oreganian that Measure 110 is taking away the court diversion programs, which he called “the only pathway” to addiction treatment and recovery for many Oregon youth and adults.

“This is crucial because most people struggling with addiction can’t stop using drugs on their own,” Jefferis wrote, noting that many people in longterm recovery credited the diversion programs with “saving my life” or “rescuing me from myself.”

“Measure 110 would take that crucial intervention away—without guaranteeing any new proven pathways to treatment. And that will cost lives,” he wrote. “We would rather see our loved ones directed into treatment than get lost further in their addiction and overdose, cause harm, or worst of all: die.”