I’ve lived in beautiful Bend for over a decade now, after previously working as a prosecutor in Chicago where I saw the futility of arresting and prosecuting people for nonviolent minor drug offenses. Looking at all of the evidence, it is clear that instead of punishing people for their drug addiction, a more humane and effective policy would be providing treatment and recovery services instead of harsh punishments.
Harmful drug arrests disproportionately hurt poor people and communities of color, hindering people’s ability to get a quality education, secure a good job, or acquire sufficient housing. The criminal record can be a lifelong bar to opportunity. At the same time, punishing people for small amounts of drugs does not make communities safer from addiction and overdose.
Here in Deschutes County, we’re fortunate to have a district attorney who is more focused than most on making prosecutorial decisions based on what research shows makes our communities safer. Nonetheless, law enforcement statewide in Oregon still arrests nearly 9,000 people a year in cases where simple drug possession is the most serious offense. That’s more than one arrest an hour.
According to the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Oregon annually ranks nearly last out of the 50 states in access to treatment, and nearly two people die every day from overdose.
Measure 110 will help change that, expanding addiction and treatment services and paying for them with existing marijuana tax revenue. Drug addiction is a health issue; it deserves a health-based response.
As part of a shift to a health-based approach to addiction, Measure 110 will end the arrest, prosecution, and jailing of nonviolent Oregonians who merely possess a personal amount of drugs. Crimes such as possessing large amounts, selling any quantity and driving under the influence will remain in place, as will drug courts and mandatory treatment options.
Drug possession represents the single largest category of arrests in America. By treating addiction as a law enforcement issue, people who need help simply do not have access to effective and affordable treatment options. Instead of help, people who are addicted to drugs get punishments, yet not a single prosecutorial office in this country can say that their years of punishing people for small amounts of drugs has made our communities safer from drugs.
Measure 110 will replace these needless arrests with access to drug treatment, recovery and housing services, and it will reduce racial disparities in drug arrests. Like every state, Oregon has unsolved murders, rape cases, plus a huge backlog of cold cases. Measure 110 will allow law enforcement to focus on more important issues, instead of getting bogged down on minor offenses.
By passing Measure 110 this November, Oregon has the opportunity to implement a more effective, health-based approach to treating addiction, fund much-needed treatment and recovery services and better prioritize law enforcement resources.
When I look back on my time as a prosecutor, I regret what drug arrests and prosecutions did to the communities we aimed to serve. I wanted to make neighborhoods safer and to best utilize limited law enforcement and judicial resources. However well-intentioned, our efforts had the opposite effect, damaging individuals and communities and wasting law enforcement and judicial resources. Thankfully, Oregonians have an opportunity to pass Measure 110 and save resources and improve lives.