This July, the Oregon legislature passed a bill that would charge first-time users of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and MDMA with misdemeanors instead of felonies, a major advancement in the fight to soften punishments on drugs.
The goal of this initiative is to remove resources from mass incarceration and reallocate them towards restorative and effective drug treatment, a process that will reduce both mass incarceration and racial disparities in jails, as drug-related charges are much more likely to be inflicted upon people of color. In the words of Oregon Senator Jackie Winters, “we are trying to move policy towards treatment rather than prison beds.”
Non-violent drug offenders are people, not criminals, and by giving them strategies to eliminate their addiction instead of locking them in cages, we can actually attack the root of the problem. It’s also noteworthy the economic effects of a felony charge can be causes of substance abuse themselves. This is especially true without access to housing and employment, as poverty can often be a cause of drug addiction.
We must support Oregon’s effort to decrease punishments on non-violent drug offenders and stand for even more radical steps to shift our criminal justice system from punishment to rehabilitation. Here in Madison, we must fight for the same goal until we see a Madison community where people of color are given help - not jail time - for possession of drugs.