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Oregon Just Became the First State to Defelonize Hard Drugs
Reason no. 11 to love Portland right now.
By Matthew Korfhage
Last June, Oregon's police chief and sheriff associations wrote an extraordinary letter to a state senator.
The idea they proposed was in many ways obvious. It was also unprecedented. They wanted Oregon to stop throwing people in prison for possessing small amounts of coke, heroin, oxy, Ecstasy, LSD or meth.
"Too often, individuals with addiction issues find their way to the doorstep of the criminal justice system," the letter read. "Unfortunately, felony convictions in these cases also include unintended and collateral consequences, including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities."
Before this June, Oregon was prepared to punish a single rail of coke with five years in prison—a law that would imprison half the musicians, line cooks and software execs in town if it were evenly enforced. Which, of course, it wasn't.
With the full-throated support of law enforcement, House Bill 2355 passed in July 2017—and with it put an end to seven decades of a failed and punitive drug war in Oregon that seemed determined to treat a public health issue as a criminal one.
These drugs aren't truly decriminalized; they're still listed as class-A misdemeanors, same as a DUII or weapons charge. But Oregon has come further than any state in the country in doing away with the toxic paranoia that would theoretically ruin a teenager's life for crunching Molly at a rave.