Recently, an initiative funded by the nonprofit organization Drug Policy Alliance for decriminalizing drug possession has been passed with more than fifty-eight percent votes in favor. Also known as Measure 110, the initiative makes Oregon the first US state to decriminalize the possession of drugs including methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin for personal usage.
The change does not mean it is now legal to market and to sell the drugs but that having them is no longer considered a violation of the law. Possession of drugs in Oregon will no longer result in jail time but a court-ordained therapy or just a fine.
Although a number of European countries have decriminalized drugs to a certain extent, the change in the law is radical, especially for the US because of its history with strict laws for drug control.
The ‘war on drugs’ in the US started during the early 1970s when President Nixon called the use of drugs among young adults the country’s worst enemy. As a result, various laws and regulations regarding the possession and use of drugs were developed.
The argument used for most of the existent laws for drugs is that stricter controls and harsh punishments can effectively stop young people from drug usage. However, research on the efficacy of punishment to reduce and stop criminal activity shows otherwise.
This is one of the main reasons why the US is among the countries with one of the highest rates of drug use and incarceration. Statistically, one in five people who are incarcerated in the country is because of the usage of illegal drugs.
Another reason why the country continues to struggle with increasing rates of drug abuse is that there are limitations to the effectiveness of jail time and punishments.
In addition, criminological studies have also highlighted that awareness regarding negative outcomes of drugs has a far bigger impact and may also be more effective in discouraging the use of drugs.
Since criminalizing drugs has been seen to not make a big difference, it can be said that decriminalizing them would not increase their usage.
In Portugal, the possession of drugs has been decriminalized since 2001. However, the country’s rate of drug use is much lower than that of the US and European states. For example, the rate of prevalence of cocaine in Europe is 2.1%.
On the other hand, Portugal’s rate of use of cocaine is only 0.3%. Similarly, the rate for other drugs including MDMA is also much lower in Portugal.
In the US, not only are punishments and harsh laws ineffective for controlling the widespread use of drugs but are also harmful to certain communities. For example, people of color are more likely to be searched and arrested for charges of drug abuse without any evidence.
Lastly, the procedures needed for the arrest and imprisonment for possession of drugs are extremely costly. According to Jeffrey Miron, who is a Harvard Economist, the expenditures for such procedures in the US were around $47.8 billion in 2016 alone.
By decriminalizing drugs, a lot of money can be saved and invested in better ways to stop drug usages such as building more drug addiction recovery and treatment centers.