Courtesy of Matt Zalewski via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA-4.0

It’s time for the U.S. to decriminalize drug possession, and it appears that a majority of the nation agrees with this too. The 2020 election saw many measures and legislation on the ballot, some involving the legalization and decriminalization of various drugs 一 primarily marijuana. Four states, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Arizona, voted to legalize recreational use while Mississippi voted to legalize its medical use. Oregon, however, has made historic progress as the first state to decriminalize the possession and personal use of all drugs. The passage of Measure 110 is a huge step forward for public health, criminal justice and social welfare.

Measure 110 has three key components. The first aims to reduce misdemeanor drug possession to a noncriminal violation where people with small amounts of drugs, such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, may get a ticket with a $100 fine or have the option of being screened for a substance abuse disorder. The measure then reduces penalties for current felony drug possession cases, knocking down most offenses to misdemeanors. Finally, millions in marijuana tax revenue will be funneled toward Addiction Recovery Centers, where people can be screened and directed to treatment options. All three components are promising reforms that may significantly combat the drug crisis in the country. 

The legalization and decriminalization of substances can lead to equal treatment in policing, criminal justice and economic inequality. The prohibition of drugs in this country has been unnecessarily cruel, wasting billions of dollars and placing many lives in harm’s way. Addiction and incarceration rates continue to rise as a result of the failure of the war on drugs. Consequently, the overall history of drug laws and enforcement in the U.S. includes years of over-policing and racially-biased incarceration

Measure 110, however, would improve upon criminal justice and social welfare as it shifts the focus from unnecessary punishment and prohibition to rehabilitation and public health. Implementing this reform not only serves to aid drug users but will also allow for a safer community, especially with the implementation of the option to be screened for treatment as an alternative to an arrest or fine. Such an implementation will act as a support system for addicts that will help their recovery and reduce the already out of control addiction rate, especially for the opioid crisis. Treating those with substance abuse disorders as patients rather than criminals will go a long way to get them the help they need. 

Equally important, those who may oppose this reform for economical reasons would be happy to know that funding for such an option comes from taxes on marijuana. In fact, taxation on legal marijuana and other substances has worthwhile effects for the economy. The impact that the marijuana industry has had on tax revenue is immense, as over $12.2 billion have been generated in sales in 2019.

Opponents of the measure may cite a variety of reasons to be against this piece of legislation. Some may argue that the ballot measure would rather encourage drug use, especially among children. Others oppose the reform in opposition of drug use in general due to the notoriety it has achieved in relation to the nation’s economy and health. However, it must be understood that decriminalization is not the same as legalization, as possession of most controlled substances is still considered an offense. The measure aims to curb drug usage through a reduction in the severity of punishment and through providing a support system, which has already proven to be effective in combating a drug crisis in several countries.

Portugal, one of the first countries to implement full decriminalization of all drugs, has seen great improvements with a fall in addiction and death rate. Through heavy investment in evidence-based treatment and methods which curb addiction, the decriminalization strategy was proven to be effective in reducing problematic drug use and crime while improving public health. In turn, Portugal and Oregon may have found the answer to win the war on drugs. 

Legalization and decriminalization of controlled substances have already shown immense benefits and progress in society with its impact on the field of medicine, the economy, criminal justice and social welfare. Through progress, we grow past the failures and stigmas that were once held and bring the systemic changes necessary to build a stronger, prosperous and more unified nation.