Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Oregon’s Drug Decriminalization Needs to Go Further

By Jeffrey Miron and Jacob Winter

In November 2020, Oregon voters passed Measure 110, which decriminalized the possession for personal use of small amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, and oxycodone. Oregon is the only U.S. state to have implemented this policy.

Minor possession in Oregon became a civil infraction on February 1, 2021; violators receive a citation and $100 fine, which can be waived by calling a hotline to screen for substance use disorder.

A year and a half later, critics call 110 ineffectual or even harmful, claiming the black market remains vibrant. The Republican and independent candidates for governor are calling for its repeal.

The problem, however, is that 110 did not go far enough.

While 110 eliminated serious penalties for personal use, it did not legalize production and sale of drugs. For example, manufacturing or distributing heroin is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine, plus twice the amount gained through dealing.

Moreover, federal law still bans possession of all amounts of drugs. Thus, the black market remains because producing, selling, and even possessing drugs remains illegal. 110 was not designed to eliminate the black market; its purpose was “to stop criminalizing drug use and addiction” and arrest fewer people.

This means most standard harms from underground markets are likely to remain.

Prohibition encourages violence because illicit suppliers cannot use the legal and judicial systems to resolve disputes.


Leave a Reply