Oregon Decriminalizes Possession of Illegal Drugs in the 2020 Election

While some states voted to legalize recreational marijuana in the 2020 election, Oregon went one step further. Making history with the approval of a state statute, residents in Oregon voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs with Measure 110.

Oregon State Capitol

First State to Decriminalize Possession of Street Drugs

The first of its kind, Oregon’s Measure 110 or the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative decreases penalties for personal and non-commercial possession of Schedule I to Schedule IV drugs. With this change, possession of controlled substances like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine in Oregon for personal use will go from being a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E violation.1

The difference between these two drug classifications is substantial. Instead of potentially 364 days of jail time and a $6,250 fine, offenders could face a maximum fine of $100 and must undergo a complete health assessment by an addiction recovery center within 45 days.2 These facilities will also provide a variety of helpful resources like peer support, case management services, and addiction intervention plans. Funding for Oregon’s Measure 110 will be done in part by the Oregon Marijuana Account, the marijuana tax program. Those found to be selling or manufacturing controlled substances are still subject to criminal charges.1

What Oregon Decriminalizing Drug Possession Could Mean

Like the rest of the country, Oregon has struggled to combat the war on drugs. Based on a combined average of 2015 and 2016 rates, an estimated 117,000 adults in Oregon had an illicit substance use disorder in the last year, but only about 12,000 got treatment.3

Without professional help, many people will continue to abuse these drugs, even if jail time may have forced them to detox on their own, because they lack the support and evidence-based treatment that can lead to permanent change. Unfortunately, this could create a vicious and ongoing cycle of relapse.

Oregon decriminalizing possession of illegal drugs in the 2020 election is a new approach to the illicit drug abuse problem. The idea is that instead of facing staggering fines or being sent to jail, people will be directed to resources that could help them quit their substance abuse and break this cycle for good. Those against this proposal fear that it will only promote more illicit drug abuse.

Because this change is the first of its kind, only time will tell if this new initiative is effective and if other states will follow Oregon’s lead.



1. Ballotopedia - Oregon Measure 110, Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative (2020)

2. Oregon Laws - ORS 161.615¹ Maximum terms of imprisonment for misdemeanors

3. SAMHSA - OREGON - National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 2015-2016 State-Specific Tables

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