FIELDEN: Oregon Decriminalized Meth. Now What?
In a radical move during Tuesday's Election, Oregon decriminalized all hard drugs, including methamphetamines, and has legalized psychedelic mushrooms for recreational consumption. At first glance, this is absurd; who in their right mind would legalize these harmful and destructive substances? This move is a drastic shift in the current philosophy about addiction and the current drug regulations and has the ability to set a new precedent for drug usage in America.
Former President Richard Nixon had an idea: end the illegal drug trade in America. His administration allocated more resources for this cause and formally began the War or drugs in 1971. Nixon was worried about the American people, their health and their well-being. In an address to Congress, he cited the over 500% increase of narcotics-related deaths in New York City since 1960. Nixon then laid out his plan to rehabilitate the addicted and interdict the influx of narcotics.
In 1981, Ronald Reagan built on Nixon's idea to end drug abuse and signed multiple pieces of legislation that would help end addiction, allowing America to win in the War on drugs. In June of 1982, Reagan was clear on his standpoint: he wanted to take down the surrender flags and run up a battle flag; he then signed Executive Order 12368. The Comprehensive Crime Control Act (1984) expanded Nixon's penalties and set the precedent for the future of drug usage: it was a crime. During Reagan's administration, there was over a 1000% increase in funding to the FBI's Drug Enforcement Units.
This was a complete failure for both Presidents. Since Nixon's address, the number of drug-related crimes had only increased and showed no signs of stopping after Reagan's more aggressive tactics. Per the Bureau of Justice, from 1970-2007, adult drug possession showed drastic increases over time. On a more positive side, the number of high school seniors who claimed to have used cocaine showed a consistent decrease since 1985. More interestingly, the attitudes of high school seniors seemed less afraid of the risk of taking drugs as marijuana's perceived risk dropped 25% from 1988 to 2008. LSD was also perceived to have less risk over time.
These seniors have obviously grown up since the 1990s and early 2000s. And their ideas have been more and more normalized. In 2014, only 26% of Americans agreed with prosecuting recreational drug users for any drug, per Pew Research Center. Hence why we have recently seen more and more states legalize marijuana. As of this past election cycle, only seven states still have full out bans on marijuana: Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
So, what does this mean for Oregon? The idea is that by decriminalizing drugs and treating addiction as a health issue, rather than a criminal issue, they will see better results than either Nixon or Reagan did in ending addiction. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission predicts decriminalization will lead to more than a 90% decrease in drug-related crime – in year one alone.
Portugal has a similar policy in place and has seen similar results. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. While punishments still exist, jail time is no longer one of them. Portugal switched their mentality from criminal to a health issue; by doing so they were more effectively able to combat addiction. Since the implementation of the policy, Portugal has seen a drug use rate lower than the European average, lower rates of 15-24-year-olds users, and a consistent decline in continued drug usage.
I don't believe this radical program could be well implemented if at all at a federal level in America soon. However, if Oregon's prediction on drug-related crime ends up coming true and over the next few years there is a drastic drop in drug-related crimes and drug usage rates, then there is reason to believe similar options could be implemented in other states. The War on drugs is currently a war lost. Portugal's radical measure may seem the right way to attack one of the world's leading issues, given the immediate and sustained success. However, if drug addiction is treated as a health concern before a criminal concern, small changes to the current policies could lead to a brighter future for Americans who struggle with addiction.
Currently, all drugs are federally banned. With the current emphasis on prevention, addicts are not receiving the treatment they need. In 2009, only 2.6 million of the estimated 23.5 million drug addicts in the United States – slightly over 11%. This needs change. This is the new tactic we need for the War on Drugs: treat addiction as the disease it is.
Andrew Fielden is an Editor-At-Large for The National Times.