It has been a busy news week, to say the least. For various obvious reasons, the top story has been the 2020 United States Presidential Election, which, three days later, has almost been settled. I will write more about that later.
The microfocus on ballot returns in a few counties of Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona has made the other electoral outcomes of the night seem somewhat unimportant, even though some of them will have a redefining influence on life in their states, as well as in the rest of the United States. And one of those was Ballot Measure 110 in Oregon, which decriminalized all forms of personal drug possession.
It is important to sum up what the measure does, and does not do, especially as the intent and text of the law will get forgotten. Which makes sense: the actual text of the law takes up five pages in my voter's pamphlet, and it is highly technical. Cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, among others, are still illegal in Oregon. However, possession of small amounts for personal use is now a violation, and not a crime. Manufacture and distribution of these drugs, even in small quantities, still remains a crime. And of course the drugs are still illegal under federal law, so you could still be arrested by park rangers if you, say, had cocaine on your person in Crater Lake National Park. What the law does, or is attempting to do, is move substance abuse and addiction from the criminal justice system to the mental health care system. The bill also earmarks some of the money from Oregon's legal sale of Cannabis to be used for addiction treatment.
Oregon uses vote by mail, and on Tuesday evening, when the votes were in, it was immediately clear that the measure had passed, and by a fairly wide margin, currently (with most of the vote counted), 58.5%-41.5% This is very close to the margin with which Joe Biden is currently leading Donald Trump in Oregon. However, the votes are not exactly parallel: some "red" areas of Southern Oregon, for example, voted for the measure, much as they did when Oregon legalized Cannabis in 2014. But in general, given what a fixture drug criminalization was in American society, the passing of this measure by such a wide margin suggests a big turning point.
What will be all the consequences, foreseen and unforeseen, of Oregon's decriminalization measure? How will it change things in other parts of the country? I have no way of knowing, and honestly, its been a very long three day week and my brain can barely think at all right now. All I know is that, somewhere under the radar, Oregon made a big change.