On November 4th 2020 Oregon was the first state to decriminalize possession of illegal drugs. These drugs, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, oxycodone, crack, and others, are now a civil infraction. Police would confiscate the drugs and issue a $50 ticket. The user could avoid paying the fine by seeking substance abuse treatment thus avoiding a felony conviction. Drug dealers would face prosecution. The law only applies to those who possess drugs for their own use. How much is counted as personal possession is still under consideration.
I attended College in San Francisco and when I finished, I wanted to sell my $200 car. I put a sign on the window and was approached by a man who said he would buy it. He requested I take him to his apartment so we could do the paperwork and he would pay me. When I arrived, the room was filled more than ten people. In one part of the room people were injecting themselves. In another part there were people mixing powder with water in a spoon and boiling it over a candle. The room was filthy. The people were sullen. That was their lives. I never forgot that scene. If any group needed help it was that one and yet they were just a microcosm of a whole other world. What could prison possibly do for them?
I lived in Vegas and delt blackjack in the casinos for many years. I liked to smoke marijuana but at that time possession of even one cigarette of marijuana could receive a sentence of ten years in prison. Even a first offense could bring two or three years. Back then, possession of marijuana in Texas was a twenty-year sentence and Arizona it was life! This was unacceptable! I therefore never had any in my home nor did I ever travel with or have it in my car.
Between jobs, I saved some money and decided to move to Amsterdam, Holland in the year 2000. Marijuana was legal and could be bought at a store or smoked at a bar much like Colorado does today. Other “hard drugs” like heroin, cocaine, meth, crack, etc. could be obtained from a doctor along with treatment and counseling. Drug use is considered a public health issue, not a criminal matter. Holland closed many of its prisons turning some into hotels. Prison population was so low that they had to import convicts from Norway rather than permanently close them.
Portugal was the first European country to abolish all criminal penalties for personal drug possession. Five years later, illegal drug use by teenagers declined, and HIV infections decreased. Deaths from heroin were cut in half and people seeking drug intervention doubled. 1 Wikipedia
“In 2016, about 200,000 of the 1.3 million people in state jails, were serving time for drug offenses.” 2 Wikipedia. The cost of housing inmates can range from $14,000 to $ 60,000 a year depending on the state. I am using rough numbers because I don’t want the scope of this article to be bogged down with statistics. There’s too many of them. The real question is, does the cost of incarceration exceed the cost of rehabilitation? Would therapy, occupational training, and substance abuse medications be a less expensive alternative than incarcerating a person for life. Arrests and convictions for drug offences almost always remove that person from the workforce and racial profiling in making drug arrests may be a systemic problem.
“Harvard economist, Jeffrey Miron estimated that ending the war on drugs would inject 76.8 billion dollars into the U.S. economy in 2010 alone. The government would gain $46.7 billion in tax revenue.” 3 Wikipedia
These facts make a plausible argument for the decriminalization of hard and psychoactive drugs for personal use. The argument against this is that government has the responsibility of protecting citizens from deadly and dangerous substances! Drugs kill people! Their dangerous! They wreck lives! Look at all those Hollywood movie stars and musicians that have died from drug overdose. I Googled “list of pop musicians who died of drug overdose” and I got 16 pages! I Googled “list of actors who died of drug overdose” and got 619 names which included sports names. Tough drug laws are there to “keep” people from trying dangerous substances. If drugs were easy to get more people might be encouraged to try them and the addiction problem would be worse. Top this off with the increase in the health care and hospitalization cost.
I’m writing this article because it is newsworthy. The State of Oregon has just passed laws that decriminalize the use of small amounts of dangerous drugs. The State of Washington looks soon to follow. My hope, is that this article will encourage a discussion on the best course of action for our country
- Wikipedia, Glenn Greenwald, Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies.09/09
- Wikipedia, John Pfaff, A Better Approach to Violent Crime. 01/28/17
- Wikipedia, Jeffrey Miron, Katherine Waldock, The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition 09/27/10