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Oregon Senate Approves Reversal Of Drug Decriminalization Law

A man prepares to smoke fentanyl on a park bench in downtown Portland, Ore., Thursday, May 18, 2023. Oregon is poised to step back from its first-in-the-nation drug decriminalization law. A mea

Oregon is set to make changes to its drug decriminalization law with a new measure approved by the state Senate. The legislation aims to reinstate criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of certain drugs, marking a shift from the law that decriminalized drug possession in 2021.

Which Drugs Will Be Illegal to Possess, and Which Will Not?

If signed by Gov. Tina Kotek, the measure would make it illegal to possess drugs such as cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine. However, possession of marijuana, which is legal for medical and recreational use in Oregon, would not be affected. Additionally, controlled use of psylocibin mushrooms, approved for therapeutic use in 2020, would remain legal.

How Will Possession Be Penalized?

The new legislation would introduce jail sentences of up to six months for possessing small amounts of illicit drugs. Law enforcement would have the authority to confiscate drugs and prevent their use in public spaces. The measure also encourages diversion to treatment programs for individuals arrested for possession and allows for record expungement for those convicted.

Reasons for Changing the Law
Illegal to possess cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine.
Oregon Senate approves measure to criminalize drug possession.
Marijuana possession unaffected due to existing legalization.

Oregon is facing a significant increase in drug overdose deaths, prompting concerns about the state's substance use disorder rates and limited treatment access. The move to revise the decriminalization law comes amid pressure from critics and a ballot campaign seeking further changes. While the impact of the original decriminalization measure on overdose rates remains uncertain, the need for action is clear.

Critics' Concerns

Opponents of the measure argue that reverting to criminal penalties for drug possession is a step backward, emphasizing punitive measures over treatment. They fear the disproportionate impact on individuals struggling with addiction, particularly communities of color and those experiencing homelessness. Critics also raise concerns about the strain on public defenders' caseloads due to increased arrests and prosecutions.

In summary, the proposed changes to Oregon's drug possession laws reflect a complex balance between addressing the state's overdose crisis and ensuring equitable treatment for individuals affected by addiction. The debate surrounding these revisions underscores the ongoing challenges in finding effective solutions to substance abuse issues.

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