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Countries explore drug decriminalization as new solution to opioid crisis

By Keirah Chen, Reagan Liu and Larry Ye Mar. 17, 2021


In a 12-month period ending in May 2020, drug-related overdose surpassed 81,230 deaths in the U.S., as shown by data from the Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics—the largest quantity of fatal drug overdoses over 12 months in American history. Following the COVID-19 pandemic’s progression, America’s drug overdose epidemic has further deteriorated, causing U.S. states like Oregon to reevaluate existing legislation in hopes of curbing drug addiction.


Beomhee Kim Art


For years, racial and ethnic disparities have also persisted across felony drug convictions in Oregon.

On Feb. 1, 2021, Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize possession of hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and LSD. Now, instead of being arrested, Oregonians caught in possession of hard drugs with no intent to sell will only need to pay a $100 fine or take a health assessment to determine if they need addiction counseling. To further bolster recovery efforts, Oregon has also approved increased funding for rehabilitation centers by redirecting tax revenue from its legalized marijuana industry.


“Working on rehabilitating drug abusers is a good action to take. Many users and addicts are people going through tough times, and have to cope with many problems.”

Proponents of the new legislation claim that it will prevent relapses and accelerate recovery. They also hope that decriminalizing drug based offenses will destigmatize addiction, thereby motivating people to reach out for help.


“Before drug decriminalization, people who needed drug treatment or medical assistance may have avoided it to hide their shame or avoid punishment. With the new law, however, people will be able to ask for help more openly, which will only help them recover more quickly from their addictions,” Sophomore Soojin Lee said.


For years, racial and ethnic disparities have also persisted across felony drug convictions in Oregon. One study, conducted by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, found that African Americans in the state were convicted at twice the rate of whites, all other factors considered equal. Hence, supporters of Oregon’s drug decriminalization anticipate that the new legislation will smooth out racial inconsistencies in drug convictions.


...opponents contend that by channeling funds from marijuana tax revenue, the new drug decriminalization law will divert necessary funds...

However, not everyone supports the decriminalization of drugs. As stated by PBS, two dozen district attorneys argued against the bill, claiming it would increase drug use and the acceptance of dangerous drugs. Vote No on Measure 110’s official website argues that the measure would encourage more children to test hard drugs without any consequences. In addition, opponents contend that by channeling funds from marijuana tax revenue, the new drug decriminalization law will divert necessary funds away from schools, the police force, mental health programs and municipal governments that need support.


“Although decriminalizing some drugs could be tolerable, ultimately, it depends on the type of substance that is targeted by the law. Drugs such as heroin, oxycodone and LSD are extremely dangerous, and users could pose danger to others, so the decriminalization of such drugs could cause more harm than good. However, it would be a good idea to decriminalize less potent drugs,” Junior Danibel Kasbari said.


Despite the potential for people to abuse the law, those in favor of it point out that drug decriminalization in Portugal was extremely successful. After the law’s introduction in 2000, rehabilitation increased by 20 percent as drug-related prison sentences fell from 2001 to 2008, while the number of drug deaths fell, according to PBS. Other countries, including the Netherlands and Switzerland, have also decriminalized drugs, with mixed results. Deutsche Welle, a German newspaper, reported that Netherlands’ drug policies have led to the country becoming one of the largest exporters of synthetic drugs, leading to drug cartels and other illegal organizations taking advantage of the law. On the other hand, Switzerland’s drug policy effects have been mainly positive, with the number of overdose deaths in the country decreasing by 50 percent, HIV infections falling by 65 percent and reports of new heroin users diminishing by 80 percent, as stated by Stanford Social Innovation Review.


With the introduction of Oregon’s new law, it is still too soon to draw conclusions about long-term benefits or harms. However, the legislation will be scrutinized closely by other states who could also contemplate decriminalizing drugs.

 

About the Contributors

Keirah Chen

Staff Writer


Keirah Chen is a sophomore at Leland high school and is a staff writer. She likes going places with friends and watching horror movies.










Reagan Liu

Staff Writer


Reagan Liu is a sophomore at Leland High school and a staff writer at the Leland Charger Account. He loves music and listens to many different genres of music in his free time. He never skips a meal and consumes all the nutrients needed to stay healthy.







Larry Ye

Staff Writer


Lawrence Ye is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer for the Leland Charger Account. He likes to swim and travel and loves his pet dog named Meatball.

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