[11/11/20] – Oregon Voters Approve Ballot Measure That Decriminalizes Hard Drugs

On Election Day, Oregon made history by being the first state in the nation to decriminalize the possession of hard drugs. The ballot measure, Measure 110, decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, oxycodone, methamphetamine, and others. According to OPB, the measure, which was approved by 58.46%of Oregonians, reclassifies the possession of small amounts of drugs as a civil violation. This reclassification is similar to a traffic violation and would result in a $100 fine or participation in a health assessment. In addition to the reclassification, the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit organization, reported that Measure 110 will use excess marijuana tax revenue (estimated to be over $45 million and projected to be up to $129 million by 2027) and savings from the reduction in arrests, incarcerations, and prosecutions to expand the access to drug treatment, peer support, housing, and harm reductions services. Proponents of the measure highlighted the prevalence of drug use and drug-related deaths in the state and argued that the new approach would save lives, save families, reduce convictions and arrests, and lead to a 95% reduction in racial disparities in drug arrests. Opponents, on the other hand, argued that the measure was “reckless” and that its passage would lead to increases in the “acceptability” of the hard drugs. The measure, which does not apply retroactively to past convictions, takes effect 30-days after the election, but the provisions pertaining to decriminalization of the hard drugs will not take effect until February 1, 2020.

While Oregon was the first state in the nation to decriminalize hard drugs, it was not the only state that made headlines for working towards the decriminalization of drug use on election night. Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota approved the legalization of recreational marijuana and Mississippi voters approved the legalization of marijuana for medical use. While federal law prohibits marijuana use, the Washington Post reported that about one-third of states have now passed measures that “ease the criminal consequences” associated with its use. Oregon also passed Measure 109, which legalized and approved the use of psilocybin, also referred to as magic mushrooms, for mental health treatment at licensed facilities. And, Washington, D.C. voters approved the decriminalization of psychedelic substances, which would not legalize the substances, but make them a “lower enforcement priority” for police officers. However, the initiative needs to be approved by the D.C Council and then sent to Congress for review.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom.

The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.



  • Writing: Explain why the passage of Oregon’s Measure 110 matters. 
  • Debate: According to the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit organization, the Oregon victory demonstrates that decriminalization is politically viable. Do you believe that other states will soon follow Oregon’s lead?
  • Poll: Drug use in the United States should be treated as a public health issue and not a criminal issue. (Agree or Disagree).
  • Short Answer: Outline the arguments that were made by both the proponents and opponents of Measure 110. 

Cover Image: ©iStockphoto.com/wombatzaa

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