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Oregon decriminalizes drugs: Here are 3 metrics other states will track
It's "the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date," said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
- Oregon voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of all drugs, including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
- The state also legalized the therapeutic use and sale of psilocybin mushrooms.
- As the laws go into effect, other U.S. states will be watching to see how the experiment plays out, influencing future votes across the country.
Amid the uncertainty of the unfolding U.S. 2020 presidential election, Americans decided one thing on November 3 with refreshing clarity and unity: It's time to move away from the war on drugs.
In the nine states where ballots featured legalization or decriminalization measures, all passed. That includes recreational and medicinal marijuana in South Dakota, medical marijuana in Mississippi, and recreational marijuana in Arizona, Montana and New Jersey.
But Oregon passed the most sweeping and historic reforms, voting to partially decriminalize all drugs—even heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Oregon's measure 109 also legalized the therapeutic sale and use of psilocybin mushrooms, which, as a new era of psychedelic research continues to show, have proven remarkably effective at treating conditions like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Of course, drug decriminalization isn't legalization. Oregonians caught in possession of small amounts of hard drugs will be fined $100, whereas they would've been fined up to $6,250 and sentenced up to a year in jail under the previous law. The initiative, called the Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, also allows people caught with drugs to avoid paying the fine if they undergo a health assessment at an addiction recovery center.
"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 Drug Policy Alliance, which was behind the measure. "Measure 110 is arguably the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date."
Oregon made history tonight by becoming the first state to decriminalize drug possession! Our c4 @DrugPolicyAct led… https://t.co/s9pNxUn4HI— Drug Policy Alliance (@Drug Policy Alliance)1604462857.0
The new laws aim to reframe drug use as a public health issue.
"People suffering from addiction are more effectively treated with health care services than with criminal punishments," Oregon's initiative says. "A health care approach includes a health assessment to figure out the needs of people who are suffering from addiction, and it includes connecting them to the services they need."
Marijuana and hard drugs remain illegal on the federal level. But as Americans generally continue to shift toward favoring drug reforms, citizens and policymakers will be watching Oregon to see how the experiment plays out, and the outcomes will likely influence voters in other states. Here are a few things to keep an eye on.
Arrest and incarceration rates
Reduced arrest and incarceration rates for drug possession are likely to be the most obvious changes. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission estimates that the new laws will reduce convictions for drug possession by about 90 percent, from 4,057 convictions in 2019, to a projected 378 in 2021.
The commission's report also estimates that drug convictions among Black and Indigenous Oregonians may drop by 94 percent, and that racial disparities in drug arrests could drop by the same amount.
If more Oregonians stay out of the criminal justice system, it could help more people find employment, housing, addiction services and student loans, all of which can be harder to access with a drug conviction on your record.
It's also conceivable that the new initiative will reduce contentious interactions between Oregonians and law enforcement, which, potentially, could lead to lower arrest rates for other infractions, and create fewer opportunities for police interactions to turn violent.
Alternatively, if the initiative frees up time and resources for Oregon law enforcement, the state could see arrests rise for other types of crimes. That may include arresting more dealers and traffickers, considering the new laws only apply to users carrying small amounts. If police focus on the suppliers, it will likely change the dynamics of Oregon's illegal drug trade.
Drug use rates
How will removing the threat of jail and steep fines change drug use and overdose rates? It's hard to say for sure, but Portugal's 2001 decision to decriminalize drugs provides some clues. In the years following decriminalization, the nation's drug overdose deaths and HIV infection rates dropped significantly, while drug usage either stayed constant or decreased.
That drug use remained constant or decreased may be because Portugal only decriminalized drugs, meaning drugs weren't legally available for purchase at something like a marijuana dispensary. But it's also worth noting that Portugal invested money in addiction treatment services, as Oregon plans to do with tax revenues from marijuana sales and savings on correctional services.
"Most accounts of the Portugal experiment have focused on decriminalization, but decriminalization was part of a broader effort intended to encourage treatment," Hannah Laqueur, an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of California, Davis, told The New York Times.
Oregon will be a particularly interesting case study for decriminalization's effects on drug usage, considering the state ranks among the worst for rates of addiction, use, and overdose.
Although Oregon plans to expand investments in treatment programs for drug users, some are worried the new initiative will discourage people from seeking help.
John Kitzhaber, a former E.R. physician in Oregon, called for Oregonions to reject the measure, writing on his blog:
"Measure 110 would eliminate this invaluable tool by reducing the possession of highly addictive drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and oxycodone to a "violation," which means the court will no longer have the ability to offer people the choice to pursue treatment. It also means that a teenager caught in possession of heroin or meth will only receive a ticket, which in many counties means that parents won't be informed of their child's drug use."
Still, even if Oregon's measure reduces the number of people who get treatment, that wouldn't necessarily be an indictment of decriminalization writ large, but rather the specific way the state is allocating funds. Kitzhaber concluded his post with a sentiment shared by both drug reform advocates and some of the measure's opponents: "Incarcerating people who suffer from addiction should not be tolerated."
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Some mysteries take generations to unfold.
- In 1959, a group of nine Russian hikers was killed in an overnight incident in the Ural Mountains.
- Conspiracies about their deaths have flourished ever since, including alien invasion, an irate Yeti, and angry tribesmen.
- Researchers have finally confirmed that their deaths were due to a slab avalanche caused by intense winds.
a: Last picture of the Dyatlov group taken before sunset, while making a cut in the slope to install the tent. b: Broken tent covered with snow as it was found during the search 26 days after the event.
Photographs courtesy of the Dyatlov Memorial Foundation.<p>Finally, a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s43247-020-00081-8" target="_blank">new study</a>, published in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment, has put the case to rest: it was a slab avalanche.</p><p>This theory isn't exactly new either. Researchers have long been skeptical about the avalanche notion, however, due to the grade of the hill. Slab avalanches don't need a steep slope to get started. Crown or flank fractures can quickly release as little as a few centimeters of earth (or snow) sliding down a hill (or mountain). </p><p>As researchers Johan Gaume (Switzerland's WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF) and Alexander Puzrin (Switzerland's Institute for Geotechnical Engineering) write, it was "a combination of irregular topography, a cut made in the slope to install the tent and the subsequent deposition of snow induced by strong katabatic winds contributed after a suitable time to the slab release, which caused severe non-fatal injuries, in agreement with the autopsy results."</p><p>Conspiracy theories abound when evidence is lacking. Twenty-six days after the incident, a team showed up to investigate. They didn't find any obvious sounds of an avalanche; the slope angle was below 30 degrees, ruling out (to them) the possibility of a landslide. Plus, the head injuries suffered were not typical of avalanche victims. Inject doubt and crazy theories will flourish.</p>
Configuration of the Dyatlov tent installed on a flat surface after making a cut in the slope below a small shoulder. Snow deposition above the tent is due to wind transport of snow (with deposition flux Q).
Photo courtesy of Communications Earth & Environment.<p>Add to this Russian leadership's longstanding battle with (or against) the truth. In 2015 the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation decided to reopen this case. Four years later the agency concluded it was indeed a snow avalanche—an assertion immediately challenged within the Russian Federation. The oppositional agency eventually agreed as well. The problem was neither really provided conclusive scientific evidence.</p><p>Gaume and Puzrin went to work. They provided four critical factors that confirmed the avalanche: </p><ul><li>The location of the tent under a shoulder in a locally steeper slope to protect them from the wind </li><li>A buried weak snow layer parallel to the locally steeper terrain, which resulted in an upward-thinning snow slab</li><li>The cut in the snow slab made by the group to install the tent </li><li>Strong katabatic winds that led to progressive snow accumulation due to the local topography (shoulder above the tent) causing a delayed failure</li></ul><p>Case closed? It appears so, though don't expect conspiracy theories to abate. Good research takes time—sometimes generations. We're constantly learning about our environment and then applying those lessons to the past. While we can't expect every skeptic to accept the findings, from the looks of this study, a 62-year-old case is now closed.</p><p> --</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
As patients approached death, many had dreams and visions of deceased loved ones.
One of the most devastating elements of the coronavirus pandemic has been the inability to personally care for loved ones who have fallen ill.
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.