A few weeks ago, Oregon made a historical decision to decriminalize all drugs. As a result, an Oregon County prosecutor will no longer pursue low-level drug possession cases. However, the vote doesn’t formally take effect for another few months.
Disagree but Understand
Back in November, Oregon voters passed Measure 110, which decriminalized all drugs throughout the state, including the possession of up to:
- 1 gram of heroin,
- 2 grams of methamphetamine and cocaine,
- 12 grams of psilocybin,
- 40 user units of LSD 40 pills/capsules containing synthetic opiates.
The vote passed with 58 percent of the vote and effectively pushed simple drug possession down to a Class E infraction. This is punishable by a maximum fine of $100 and no jail time.
In a letter sent to police chiefs on Monday, the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office said that while it opposes the policy change, officials recognize the will of voters and feel that “having officers investigate and submit cases for a prosecution in the weeks leading up to February 1, which will not lead to any sanction or court-supervised treatment, is not the most effective use of criminal justice resources.”
“While we fundamentally disagree with this measure, ceasing to prosecute these matters prior to February 1 is consistent with the will of the voters, which we must respect,” the district attorney said in an email, first reported by Kind Leaf Journal.
However, the possession of a controlled substance is still unlawful until the effective date. In other words, just because prosecutors aren’t pursuing these offenses doesn’t mean you can get away with them before Feb. 1.
“The decision of our office is not intended not to divest local law enforcement officers the ability to conduct lawful investigations, searches, and arrests,” the letter states. “Good communication about this significant change is paramount.”
The Smart Decision
Although the county prosecutors disagree with this decision, it is the correct one. It will be unproductive to try and pursue minor possession cases when decriminalization is near.
“It’s a smart decision to stop arresting and jailing people for personal drug possession before Measure 110 officially goes into effect as Oregon voters have spoken loud and clear that it’s time to start treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal one,” said. Anthony Johnson, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative.
“There is simply no reason to waste law enforcement resources and our taxpayer dollars on personal drug cases,” he said. “Other district attorneys across Oregon should promptly follow suit and enact the will of the voters.”
This early action is parallel with what the state did back in 2014 with cannabis. Once cannabis was legalized for adult use, prosecutors also began to stop pursuing minor possession cases.
Oregon isn’t the only state that has decided to do this. Earlier this week, New Jersey’s Attorney General issued a memo directing prosecutors to suspend the majority of minor possession cases following the approval of a statewide cannabis legalization measure.