As Attorney General Jeff Sessions ramps up the War on Drugs, Oregon will join approximately 16 states in decriminalizing possession of illicit drugs (besides cannabis, which is already legal).
House Bill 2355 would make possession of “useable quantities” of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and its chemical counterparts, such as MDMA, a misdemeanor crime as opposed to a felony. Offenders with two misdemeanor possessions would be charged with a felony. As of July 6, the Bill was approved by the Senate. Democratic Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign the legislation.
As with most decriminalization efforts, HB 2355 is intended to reduce racial profiling, encourage addiction to be treated as a mental health issue, and enact criminal justice reform. In an email to Mic, Brown described the bill as “an important step towards creating a more equitable justice system to better serve all Oregonians.”
Brown’s support of the bill stems from an initiative she launched in 2016 after reading “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” A study, led by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, found that blacks in Oregon were convicted of felony drug possession at more than double the rate of whites” the preceding year, according to The Associated Press.
The Statesmen Journal reported Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek’s assessment of HB 2355 when it passed. Kotek said the bill’s goal was to reduce racial profiling — not to promote drug use.
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“Over the past few years, the Legislature has worked very hard to improve balance and fairness in our criminal justice system,” Kotek told the state’s legislature. “We’ve been working hard to address racial and economic barriers in our legal system and here is another chance to do that.”
Kotek continued, “felony sentences for small, user quantity amounts often carry heavy consequences including barriers to housing and employment which have a disparate impact on minority communities.”
Another advocate of the bill, Sen. Jackie Winters, told The Washington Post that the bill would reduce the number of incarcerated people in Oregon.
“We are trying to move policy towards treatment rather than prison beds,” Winters said. “We can’t continue on the path of building more prisons when often the underlying root cause of the crime is substance use.”
Gov. Brown has 30 days to the sign the bill.