Oregon might be the first state to get rid of the whole drug war

BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 13: An activists smokes a marijuana joint prior to marching in the annual Hemp Parade (Hanfparade) on August 13, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. German proponents of cannabis legalization are hoping that the legalization in several states in the USA in recent years will increase the likelihood of legalization in Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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A strong and growing majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and though the government is as usual behind the times — don’t even get me started on Jeff Sessions and his latest inane scheme — it’s clear which way the winds of change are slowly blowing.

But what about other drugs? Well, one state, Oregon, may be ready to take a big step toward getting rid of the whole drug war. From a local news report:

The Oregon Legislature … just passed two bills that reclassify the severity of possession of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. So instead of being tried for a felony, possessors of those drugs would be charged with a misdemeanor — but only if they meet a specific set of criteria. To be eligible, for example, the person cannot have been convicted of a felony, sex crime or any more than two drug crimes.

Also, the Family Sentencing Alternative Pilot Program aims to keep families together, under the premise that children suffer more when their parents go to jail than when they go to rehabilitation. This program requires the defendant have custody of a minor or be pregnant.

The idea is to start giving drug addicts medical help instead of jail time.

I have to admit, when I first saw stories about this bill, I was skeptical — after all, we live in the age of fake news.

It turns out some headlines did oversell the situation a little: “Decriminalization” typically “means no arrest, prison time, or criminal record for the first-time possession of a small amount” of a drug and the offense is “treated like a minor traffic violation.” That’s not exactly what’s happening here, which is perhaps better labeled “de-felonization,” because people caught with drugs under the specified circumstances will face misdemeanor charges and treatment instead of felony charges and jail.

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This reform is backed by the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association and the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police. They released a joint statement this past fall arguing that “felony convictions in these cases also include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities.” The letter recommended “that user-amount drug possession convictions be treated as misdemeanors” so that “limited criminal justice resources [can] be focused on addressing violent crime and property crime problems” instead of controlling nonviolent drug use.

Of course, these harder drugs don’t have the same cultural acceptance as weed, and with good reason: Marijuana and harder drugs like heroin are very different animals. Still, Oregon is taking a step in the right direction, because most of the arguments for ending marijuana prohibition apply to these other drugs, too. The war on (harder) drugs has been expensive, ineffective, counterproductive, and dangerous just like the war on marijuana.

Some of these drugs may even have medical applications that ending the drug war would help us discover. For example, there’s evidence Ecstasy (also known as MDMA) can help veterans suffering from PTSD, and a Swiss study found LSD can ease “end-of-life anxiety in patients suffering from terminal illnesses.”

Finally, at a philosophical level, if you believe adults should have the right to make their own decision about marijuana consumption (or alcohol, for that matter), the consistent position is to say the same about these other drugs. Don’t get me wrong: There are many really good reasons not to do drugs, but I’d argue that isn’t a choice the government should make for us.

In Oregon, we may get a chance to see a greater degree of freedom in action.

What do you think?

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