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.
Arrest and incarceration rates<p>Reduced arrest and incarceration rates for drug possession are likely to be the most obvious changes. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission <a href="https://www.opb.org/pdf/IP44%20-%20REI%20Statement%20Supplement_1602708982790.pdf" target="_blank">estimates</a> 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.<br></p><p>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.</p><p>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. </p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p>
Drug use rates<p>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 <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/portugal-drug-decriminalization/" target="_blank">HIV infection rates dropped significantly</a>, while <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1464837" target="_blank">drug usage either stayed constant or decreased</a>.<br></p><p>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 <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Oregon_Measure_110,_Drug_Decriminalization_and_Addiction_Treatment_Initiative_(2020)#How_is_the_drug_addiction_treatment_and_recovery_program_funded.3F" target="_blank">plans to do with tax revenues from marijuana sales and savings on correctional services</a>.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Most accounts of the Portugal experiment have focused on decriminalization, but decriminalization was part of a broader effort intended to encourage treatment," <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/law-and-social-inquiry/article/uses-and-abuses-of-drug-decriminalization-in-portugal/1F68DA5A8F0369F3FBA6B2B04E454BBE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hannah Laqueur</a>, an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of California, Davis, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/upshot/portugal-drug-legalization-treatment.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told</a> <em>The New York Times</em>.</p><p>Oregon will be a particularly interesting case study for decriminalization's effects on drug usage, considering the state ranks among the worst for <a href="https://www.wweek.com/news/state/2019/10/02/nobody-can-beat-oregon-for-drug-use-and-abuse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rates of addiction, use, and overdose</a>.</p>
Treatment rates<p>Although Oregon plans to expand investments in treatment programs for drug users, some are worried the new initiative will discourage people from seeking help.<br></p><p>John Kitzhaber, a former E.R. physician in Oregon, called for Oregonions to reject the measure, writing on his <a href="https://blog.johnkitzhaber.com/vote-no-on-measure-110/" target="_blank">blog</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"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."</p><p>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."</p>
Monopolies wield an immense amount of economic and political power and influence. So what can we do to make the economy more equitable?
- According to Vanderbilt law professor and author Ganesh Sitaraman, America has a monopoly problem—a problem that is almost universally acknowledged as such, yet little is done about it.
- Sitaraman explains how monopolies of today share DNA with trusts of the 19th century, and how the increased concentration and consolidation of these corporations translates to increased power both economically and politically.
- "We need to think about reinvigorating our anti-trust laws and the principles of anti-monopoly that gave spirit to those laws and to lots of other regulations," he argues. Restoring faith in government and the economy starts with dismantling the things that make people question its allegiances and priorities.
A new interactive documentary "How Normal Am I?" helps reveal the shortcomings of facial recognition technology.
- The website is part of SHERPA, a European Union-funded "project which analyses how AI and big data analytics impact ethics and human rights."
- The interactive documentary uses your webcam to analyze your face, predicting metrics like age, attractiveness, gender, body mass index and life expectancy.
- Despite the shortcomings of facial recognition, there's currently no set of national laws regulating the use of the technology by governments or private companies.
An interactive facial recognition experience<p>Want to see for yourself how well these systems work? Check out a new interactive mini-documentary called <a href="https://www.hownormalami.eu/" target="_blank">"How Normal Am I?"</a>, created by Tijmen Schep, a technology critic and privacy designer. </p><p>The documentary is part of <a href="https://www.project-sherpa.eu/" target="_blank">SHERPA</a>, a European Union-funded "project which analyses how AI and big data analytics impact ethics and human rights." To experience it, you'll need to grant the website permission to access your webcam, though "no personal data is collected." (You can also access the website and then disconnect your computer from the internet; it should still work fine.)<br></p>
hownormalami.eu<p>"How Normal Am I?" uses facial recognition to predict your age, attractiveness, <a href="https://www.sherpapieces.eu/overview/predicting-your-bmi-from-a-just-photo-a-github-safari" target="_blank">body mass index</a>, life expectancy and gender. Don't get upset if you get a low attractiveness or a high age score: Tilting your head, moving closer to the camera, or just running the program a second time can produce different results.<br></p><p>And that's sort of the point: If facial recognition technology is unreliable on a broad range of measures, to what extent should governments and the private sector be using it? Even if it does become reliable, to what extent should governments be allowed to use it on citizens?</p>
The future of facial recognition technology<p>In a <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2019/09/05/more-than-half-of-u-s-adults-trust-law-enforcement-to-use-facial-recognition-responsibly/" target="_blank">2019 Pew Research Center survey</a>, a majority of U.S. respondents said it's acceptable for law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition to scan for threats in public spaces. However, far fewer said it's acceptable for advertisers to use facial recognition to do things like analyze how people respond to commercials in real time.<br></p><p>What could change how facial recognition operates in the U.S. is a set of national laws, which currently don't exist. (Although, some states and <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/facial-recognition" target="_self">cities do regulate the technology</a>.) There are currently more than a <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/13/tech/facial-recognition-policy/index.html" target="_blank">dozen bills</a> addressing facial recognition technology, ranging from legislation that would outlaw warrantless usage of facial recognition, to banning federal agencies from <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3875/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22%5C%22facial+recognition%5C%22+-uyghur%22%5D%7D&r=2&s=8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">using it altogether.</a></p>
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="917" data-height="453" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Who profits with for-profit prisons?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="97ac37e6c7f6f22ec130ea2d56871701"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dB78NV2WpWc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The Labour Economics study suggests that privately-run prisons do convicts a few favors at the moment of sentencing. However, proponents of private prisons often point to other benefits when making their case. Specifically, they argue that private prisons reduce operating costs, stimulate innovation in the correctional system, and reduce recidivism—the rate at which released prisoners are rearrested and return to prison.</p><p>In regard to recidivism, the research is mixed. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank">One study</a> compared roughly 400 former prisoners from Florida, 200 released from private prisons and 200 from state-run facilities. It found the private-prison cohort maintained lower rates of recidivism. However, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-9133.2005.00006.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">another Florida study</a> found no significant rate differences. And two other studies—one from <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011128799045001002" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Oklahoma</a> and another out of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734016813478823" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Minnesota</a>, both comparing much larger cohorts than the first Florida study— found that prisoners leaving private prisons had a greater risk of recidivism.</p><p>The research is also inconclusive regarding cost savings. <a href="https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/economics_of_private_prisons.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Hamilton Project analysis</a> noted that such comparisons are difficult because private prisons, like all private companies, are not required to release operational details. In comparing what studies were available, the authors estimate the costs to be comparable and that "in practice the primary mechanism for cost saving in private prisons is lower salaries for correctional officers"—about $7,000 less than their public peers. They add that competition-driven innovation is lacking as the three largest firms control nearly the entire market.</p><p>"We aren't saying private prisons are bad," Galinato said. "But states need to be careful with them. If your state has previous and regular issues with corruption, I wouldn't be surprised to see laws being more skewed to give longer sentences, for example. If the goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, increasing the number of private prisons may not be the way to go."</p>
Stewart is supporting a new bill that aims to extend health care and disability benefits to veterans who served alongside burn pits.
- Thousands of American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to burn pits, which may have caused diseases like asthma and cancer.
- Burn pits were used as a crude way to dispose of waste, including plastics, body parts, dead animals, and hazardous chemicals.
- Despite gaps in the research linking exposure to medical conditions, advocates say the benefit of the doubt should go to veterans.