Wed. Sep 28th, 2022
On Tuesday, Washington, DC voted to decriminalize psilocybin, and Oregon voters approved two key reform measures: Measure 109, which legalizes psilocybin therapies, and Measure 110, which decriminalizes personal possession of drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids.
enlarge On Tuesday, Washington, DC voted to decriminalize psilocybin, and Oregon voters approved two key reform measures: Measure 109, which legalizes psilocybin therapies, and Measure 110, which decriminalizes personal possession of drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids.

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As election night ended in the United States, people went to bed wondering who won the presidential race, which party would control Congress, and what the future holds. But one topic united the electorate with unexpectedly decisive consistency: drugs.

When asked to relax laws around the use of psychoactive substances, voters said yes, whether they were in the reddest red or the bluest blue state. New Jersey, Arizona and Montana all voted to legalize recreational cannabis. Mississippi voted to legalize medical marijuana and South Dakota legalized both recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. “If there were drug reforms, they won very handily,” said Leo Beletsky, an epidemiologist and the faculty director of the Health in Justice Lab at Northeastern University. “That shows a hunger for major shifts and reforms across party lines.”

People want a truce in the War on Drugs. Cannabis has been dubbed a wellness panacea. Mushrooms and MDMA are making headlines as therapy aids, not party fuel. And as the overdose crisis continues, it is becoming increasingly clear to a growing part of the country that threatening to incarcerate drug users is not reducing drug-related death rates or helping families struggling to save their loved ones. Instead, it disproportionately harms black communities.

What once sounded like progressive pipe dreams…decriminalize it, legalize it!– is now increasingly interpreted as common sense, and not just when it comes to cannabis. “There is a mismatch between what voters want and what lawmakers are comfortable with,” Beletsky said. In other words, voters are much more progressive on this particular point than their congressional representatives. (Even cannabis remains federally illegal.) On Tuesday, Washington, D.C., voted to decriminalize psilocybin, and Oregon voters approved two key reform measures: Measure 109, which legalizes psilocybin therapies, and Measure 110, which prohibits personal possession of drugs, including cocaine. decriminalizes , methamphetamine and opioids.


“What happened in Oregon was historic,” said Beau Kilmer, director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. “A lot of other states will pay attention to how this plays out.”

After the expiration of Measure 110, people found in Oregon with illegal drugs will be asked to complete a health assessment with a certified drug and alcohol counselor, or pay a $100 fine, but they will not face criminal charges. The measure will fund the increased treatment options from the state’s cannabis tax revenue, as well as the expected savings from fewer arrests and incarceration. Essentially, it’s reinterpreting the entire state’s response to drug issues, making it a public health issue, not a criminal one.

Proponents of drug policy reform have been buoyed by Oregon’s substantial shift of punishment. “This puts resources and funding into things that work — evidence-based treatment, as well as housing and harm reduction,” said Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, which contributed to the “Yes to 110” campaign “We have always advocated replacing criminalization with a health-oriented approach.”

On the ground in Oregon, some drug addicts are also elated. “This is a huge public health victory,” said Andrew Seaman, an addiction medicine researcher in Portland, Oregon. Seaman sees decriminalization as a change that can help on several fronts of the ongoing drug overdose crisis. Studies show that opioid users who are in prison are much more likely to have a fatal overdose shortly after release than the general population. By not putting drug users in jail for possession, Seaman says, they are less likely to develop withdrawal symptoms and overdose if released. He also believes that decriminalization will reduce the stigma surrounding drug use, encouraging people to seek treatment more openly and proactively.

“Look at Portugal”

This reduction in stigma is especially important in normalizing drug-assisted treatments (MAT) such as buprenorphine. A growing body of evidence suggests that MAT is more effective than abstinence from substance use disorders alone, but they are still sometimes dismissed as a crutch, swapping one vice for another. (In 2017, more than 700 researchers signed an open letter to Tom Price, former Secretary of Health and Human Services, after Price criticized MAT in this way.) And while the decriminalization of all drugs may sound like an extreme step for Americans who are Growing up with DARE classes and “Just Say No” commercials, there’s plenty of evidence that it’s part of an approach to drugs that works.

“Look at Portugal,” says Frederique. Portugal, which decriminalized drugs 20 years ago, has dramatically reduced HIV infections and drug-related deaths. The humane, science-based approach to treatment is often cited as evidence that relaxing drug laws can reduce drug problems.

Although the measure passed with more than 58 percent of the vote in Oregon, it had both fierce critics and staunch supporters. Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton earlier this year called it a “terrible idea” and suggested it would lead to increased drug use and crime. Meanwhile, other organizations opposed it for not going far enough, such as the Oregon Council for Behavioral Health, which supports the decriminalization of drug costs but objected to the plans for funding. Kilmer is eager to explore how Oregon’s new policy will play out, but believes it’s too early to say whether it will be a success in implementing it. “It’s hard to predict what the overall effect will be,” he says.

“A step in the right direction”

Some experts have emphasized that abolishing criminal penalties is not the only goal for drug reform. “Decriminalization is, I think, a step in the right direction, but it has to go hand in hand with other public health strategies,” said Brendan Saloner, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “What is often missed in the conversation about Portugal is that Portugal has a relatively good service model to help people. Many of those services are rather sloppy in our country.” The model worked because it offered comprehensive treatment of substance use disorders in addition to decriminalization. While most headlines will highlight its decriminalization aspect, the success or failure of Oregon’s new drug policy may depend on whether it creates new routes to get high-quality treatments.

Although there are many unknowns, they are necessary unknowns. It is clear that the prohibition and criminalization of drugs has not made the country safer or healthier. Oregon’s experiment is rooted in evidence and empathy, and it could serve as a useful blueprint for other states — or even the entire country.

“It would be much better if we had a coordinated national strategy instead of trying this piecemeal,” Saloner says. In a country still deeply divided, perhaps politicians will begin to notice the popularity of this reform movement and overtake their voters.

This story originally appeared on

By akfire1

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