Minnesota was way ahead of the other states in enacting this sensible reform. But now Oregon is taking the lead. Under a new law just enacted and signed by Gov. Kate Brown (D), people arrested with small amounts of illegal drugs will no longer be subject to felony charges. These drugs have been “defelonized” by making possession of a small amount a misdemeanor. The new law applies to cocaine or methamphetamine under 2 grams, heroin under 1 gram, oxycodone under 40 pills, ecstasy under 1 gram or under five pills, and LSD under 40 units.
The Oregon legislation does not change penalties for possession of larger amounts of illegal drugs, considered a commercial drug offense. Felony charges will still be applicable for those with prior felony convictions or with two or more prior convictions for unlawful drug possession.
State Senator Jackie Winters, a Republican who is the longest-serving African-American woman in Oregon Senate history, sponsored the bill. She told Huffington Post “We’re spending an awful lot of resources… when sending drug users to treatment is probably a better utilization of dollars rather than giving them a felony rap and sending them to prison.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association and the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police were some of the bill’s strongest backers. Kevin Campbell, executive director of the chiefs of police, said that “too often, individuals with addiction issues find their way to the doorstep of the criminal justice system… 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.” The ACLU of Oregon noted that “the War on Drugs has cost billions of taxpayer dollars. Arresting and prosecuting people for small-scale drug cases as felonies is the wrong priority.”