Does Drug Decriminalization Work? A Case Study in America

The drug business appears to be booming in Oregon.

By basically permitting people to have in their possession small amounts of virtually any drugs, the state now has a not-so-small crisis on their hands.

Measure 110 (in effect since November 2020), which was supposed to help treat drug addiction as a health concern rather than a law enforcement concern, seems not to be working very well at all.

As was pointed out by many—drug addicts will not be deterred by a simple warning or fine, and this is the first thing that happens when someone is caught with a small amount of drugs. This could be anything from cocaine to heroine to fentanyl. And police officers can’t really do much more than this, nor do they have the ability or the time to deal with the significant numbers of people using drugs on the streets.

And that’s not all. Along with the homelessness and homeless encampments, there is also a major firearms problem. Local criminals and users also keep guns—all kinds apparently (see from 3:22 here).

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A local reporter did an excellent job in speaking very frankly about M110. His words demonstrate well how political initiatives are not always what they are claimed to be.

He candidly explains that he voted in favor of the measure, with the thought that what drug users have are health problems—problems with addiction and psychological problems. That’s what needed to be addressed. Sending them to jail does not typically address these problems.

What he emphasizes however is how he wrongly believed “that there would be some sort of penalty, some sort of pressure to get addicts into treatment and off the drugs. After all, the title of the measure was ‘Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act.’”

The irony surrounding M110 is that the drug recovery programs which it’s supposed to support are funded by taxes from…marijuana sales, a drug that is already legal in Oregon.

Wow. So in order to fund drug treatment and prevention they require drug users?! Doesn’t this mean it was pretty much doomed to fail from the very beginning?

RELATED: Why Does Amazon Want to Legalize Marijuana?

In any case, what the ardent supporters of M110 quickly point out is that the full 300+ million dollars allocated to treatment was only approved this past month. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes from here on.

These supporters also argue that this bill has resulted in keeping thousands out of handcuffs. While throwing drug users into jail may not perhaps be the best solution, the question arises: where exactly are these users then? Sadly, many still have their lives in ruins and are living on the streets. It seems unfair that now, neighbors have to constantly deal with needles, garbage, etc., and trying to shelter and protect their children from dangerous situations, which at times are at their very doorstep.

Portland Is Not Portugal

Many laud the general idea of drug decriminalization, and as the basis of their reasoning they often cite Portugal, which has had much success with their program.

But Stanford Professor of Psychology Keith Humphreys, who has worked extensively in both the clinical and policy-making sides of addiction and drug use, points out key differences between the Portuguese system and what Oregon has done (or has failed to do):

“[The Portuguese system] places heavy social and legal pressure on addicted people to seek treatment. The open use and frequent dealings that we see in West Coast cities in this country are virtually absent in Portugal, which shuts them down and uses court pressure to get people into treatment….Oregon is not following Portugal’s example, and they will not get its results.” (3:53)

In terms of allowing safe spaces for drug use, Humphreys also makes another good point, noting that while this at times is a useful measure, “reducing the harm of drug use will never reduce the size of the addicted population” (5:01). He says this is especially the case when there is insufficient work being done regarding both the prevention of future potential drug users and also with the treatment of existing users, helping them get out of drug use.

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One can even consider and compare the various types of punishments that Portugal does have in place for users against what Oregon has, which as far as I can tell, is a maximum fine of 100 dollars with the option to get out of paying this by consenting to receive a health assessment.

Listed here (and here) are measures reportedly taken by Portugal with drug users:

  • “Fines, ranging from €25 to €150. These figures are based on the Portuguese minimum wage of about €485 (Banco de Portugal, 2001) and translate into hours of work lost.
  • Suspension of the right to practice if the user has a licensed profession (e.g. medical doctor, taxi driver) and may endanger another person or someone’s possessions.
  • Ban on visiting certain places (e.g. specific clubbing venues).
  • Ban on associating with specific other persons.
  • Foreign travel ban.
  • Requirement to report periodically to the committee.
  • Withdrawal of the right to carry a gun.
  • Confiscation of personal possessions.
  • Cessation of subsidies or allowances that a person receives from a public agency.”

A Reminder for Muslims

Let this be a reminder for us of the wisdom of Islam and the utter dangers of a society in which such behavior and indulgence is either allowed or treated too lightly and/or with negligence. Never forget that such behaviors—including drinking alcohol—are malignant cancers to families and society.

RELATED: Practical Islamic Governance: Regulating Drug Use

While the impetus for drug decriminalization often stems from a need to better solve a drug problem, it appears that a growing number of people believe there is no problem at all. To them, as long as people can do drugs and function in society, then it’s not a problem, and it’s none of our business.

It’s challenging to even find a “private” activity that does not affect others. Our public and private behaviors shape who we are, and who we all are as individuals is what shapes society.

Just listen to Portland residents describe how they are afraid to even politely ask meth users to vacate their yards while they take their children to school, etc. How long can a drug-user function in society before they end up not being able to maintain a job, or start tearing apart their family, etc.? And why should society be expected to idly sit by and wait in order to find out the answer?

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