Oregon just became the first state to decriminalize hard drugs—here’s what that means

Oregon voters have passed a measure that decriminalizes possession of small quantities of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, making it the first state in the country to decriminalize hard drugs.

Measure 110 does not make these drugs legal, though, and people who have them in their possession still face arrest by the police. Instead, the measure changes how people arrested with small amounts of these drugs will be penalized.

Small-quantity offenders will likely avoid trial and possible jail time and instead be required to pay a $100 fine and attend a required addiction recovery program. These recovery programs will be funded from the state’s legal marijuana tax revenue.


Anyone caught with larger amounts — 40 or more Oxycodone pills, 2 grams or more of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine — will face a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony after Measure 110 is rolled out in 2021.

“This is like taking a sledgehammer to the cornerstone of the drug war,” Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance, told The New York Times of the measure.

Until now, state law treated these cases as a misdemeanor for anyone with fewer than two drug-possession convictions, or any other felony conviction. However, the new law will make any of these offenses a civil violation only.

Janie Gullickson, chief petitioner for the measure, told KWG 8 the current system has failed. “It’s expensive and it ruins lives. A public health approach to addiction is long overdue.”

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, passing Measure 110 should lead to a 91% reduction in drug arrests and convictions in the state, Vox reported.


Opponents of Measure 110 felt it was a radical move to reduce the punishments for these types of drugs, and that simply reallocating money for treatment won’t make the drug addiction issue improve the way the initiative intends. Vox reported that law enforcement officials worried that removing the criminal deterrent of drugs could lead to more drug use, not less.

Supporters believe the current model of punishment without treatment dehumanizes people in need of serious help.

“It’s imperative that we change our culture so that people suffering from addiction aren’t stigmatized and isolated,” petitioner Anthony Johnson told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “By treating them as criminals, you prevent them from coming forward. They are often scared to come forward to their friends and family because they’re considered second-class citizens.”