After a three-year experiment, Oregon will recriminalize drugs

Oregon steps back on drugs. Three years after becoming the first in the United States to decriminalize everything, the state will recriminalize possession of small amounts of narcotics starting in September.

The western state’s Democratic governor, Tina Kotek, on Monday released a law enforcing the backpedaling. Starting September 1, possession of hard drugs (fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, etc.) will once again be considered a crime, punishable by up to six months in prison.

Idea for 2021 inspired by Portugal

The text thus ends the criminalization voted by referendum and implemented from the beginning of 2021: users with small amounts of drugs were subject to a simple fine of $100, while sales and production remained subject to prosecution.

Pioneered in the United States, this reform caused quite a stir. Taking inspiration from Portugal, where decriminalization had been successful for more than twenty years, the idea was to treat drug users as sick people rather than as criminals. But the implementation coincides with the health crisis caused by fentanyl across the United States: fatal overdoses in Oregon will more than triple between 2019 and 2022, mainly due to this deadly opioid, which is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Oregon has also been extremely slow to establish the health services needed to accommodate users, making drug use highly visible on the streets. This led to a reversal of public opinion in this state, which the American left won: opponents of criminalization declared it a failure, while many health professionals emphasized that the law had no real impact on the health aspect. the place

Strengthening the link between police and health services

The Drug Policy Alliance, one of the main organizations that campaigned for decriminalisation, condemned the “harmful step backwards” on Tuesday. “This is a false promise of change that will funnel people through the criminal justice system, with no meaningful link to treatment,” said its president, Cassandra Frederick. Criminalization has limited incarceration and barriers to reintegration of users, she recalled.

Oregon’s new law requires police to continue to prioritize criminal prosecution options when possible. It also intends to strengthen collaboration between law enforcement and health services. The text covers “a set of steps that promote treatment first while balancing the need for accountability,” Gov. Tina Kotek stressed in a letter announcing the legislation’s implementation.

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