Oregonians may be asked next year to approve a ballot measure that would decriminalize the possession of illegal drugs. That in itself is a bad idea; worse is the way the measure would finance improved drug treatment programs.
Initiative Petition 44 is the baby of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that hopes to change the way Americans deal with drugs. It recently turned in to the Secretary of State’s Office the 1,000 signatures needed to begin work on a ballot title.
While Oregonians love their legal marijuana, they may be far less willing to decriminalize everything from heroin and other opioids to methamphetamine, and with good reason. Those drugs are both addictive and dangerous, and decriminalization could make it easier for children to get hold of them.
Perhaps the real point of IP 44 is the way it expands treatment for those with drug problems, and the way it finances that expansion.
Initial estimates are that in its first year, the program envisioned in the measure would cost $57 million, most of which would come from taxes imposed on recreational marijuana sales that now go to cities, counties, state police and various health improvement efforts. In succeeding years, costs are expected to grow, and again, marijuana taxes would be used to finance the program, along with funds redirected from savings on prosecution and incarceration costs.
Only after all of that would the state police, cities and counties receive the tax dollars voters were promised they would receive when marijuana was made legal in Oregon.
While it’s probably not surprising that some in the criminal justice system are opposed to the measure, some treatment providers oppose it, as well. They point out they’re already working with the state to improve treatment options and worry that, among other things, the ballot measure includes no way to push those with addictions toward treatment programs.
Oregon voters, if they’re asked to approve IP 44, should just say no. The current system may need fixing, but wholesale decriminalization is not the answer. Nor is it appropriate to short-circuit local efforts to improve drug treatment measures in Oregon, as this measure no doubt would.