Voters in liberal Oregon voted on Tuesday to decriminalize small amounts of what is often referred to as hard drugs, including cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and methamphetamines. The state, along with Washington, D.C., also legalized personal use of psychedelic mushrooms, while four other states (Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Montana) legalized recreational marijuana.
Larger amounts of "hard drugs" in Oregon will remain a misdemeanor and selling drugs a felony.
Advocates have been pushing for legalization, or at least relaxing of drug laws, for decades, saying criminalization of drug use and abuse leads to issues of unemployment and poverty. It is often difficult for people with arrest records for drug possession to obtain jobs and homes and often those most affected are people of color and marginalized people, including Native Americans and those living with HIV.
The ballot measure in Oregon passed with over 60 percent of support and decriminalization activists hope it will spur more legalization at the federal level. Part of the state's measure will devote more proceeds from legal marijuana sales, which was decriminalized there in 2015, to rehabilitation treatment for addicts of harder drugs.
“We have been criminalizing people for at least 50 years, and what we know is that it hasn’t gotten us any closer to having our loved ones get the care that they need at the scale that it requires,” Kassandra Frederique, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance, which backed the Oregon measure, told The Washington Post. “Criminalization is not a deterrent to use, and it’s not a humane approach. This is about recognizing that we need to support people.”