Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A worker looks through a bag of marijuana that will be used to make marijuana-infused chocolate edibles at Kiva Confections on Jan. 16, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

'Taking Sledgehammer' to Failed US Drug War, Oregon Votes to Decriminalize Narcotics as Five States Legalize Marijuana

"Huge night against the War on Drugs."

Julia Conley

Critics of the nation's failed so-called "War on Drugs" celebrated a number of victories Tuesday night as Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize personal drug possession and voters in five states backed the legalization of marijuana.

Fifty-nine percent of Oregonians backed Measure 110, which starting February 1 will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone or Percocet. The penalty for possession will be a $100 fine—which may be avoidable if a person agrees to take part in a health assessment—putting drug possession on par with a traffic violation in Oregon. 

"Measure 110 is arguably the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date. It shifts the focus where it belongs—on people and public health—and removes one of the most common justifications for law enforcement to harass, arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, and deport people."
—Kassandra Frederique, Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance, which authored Measure 110 in Oregon and spent $4 million in support of its passage, said the election results are "like taking a sledgehammer to the cornerstone of the drug war."

"Measure 110 is arguably the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date. It shifts the focus where it belongs—on people and public health—and removes one of the most common justifications for law enforcement to harass, arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, and deport people," Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the DPA, said in a statement. 

Under Measure 110, the state is expected to generate savings from fewer drug arrests, prosecutions, and incarcerations, which will be invested in a new state fund for drug use disorder treatment, health assessments, harm reduction, and other services. More than $45 million in annual tax revenue from the sale of marijuana, which has been legal in Oregon since 2014, will also be used for treatment services. 

Selling and manufacturing illegal drugs will still be criminalized in Oregon, and possession of larger amounts of drugs could still result in misdemeanor charges.  

Frederique expressed hope that the passage of Measure 110 will have a "domino effect" as other states including California, Vermont, and Washington consider decriminalizing possession. 

"We expect this victory to inspire other states to enact their own drug decriminalization policies that prioritize health over punishment," Frederique said in a statement. 

Decriminalization of drug possession in the U.S. would put the country on par with other nations including the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Uruguay, Portugal, and Switzerland.

In a separate ballot measure, Oregon voters also passed the legalization of psilocybin, also known as magic mushrooms, for people over the age of 21. Voters in Washington, D.C. also decriminalized use of the drug, which proponents for the measures say can aid people suffering from depression. 

After Tuesday's election, one in three Americans now live in states that have legalized marijuana use, as New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota all voted to legalize the substance for recreational use. In Mississippi, voters supported a measure legalizing medical marijuana. 

Daniel Nichanian, founder and editorial director of The Appeal: Political Report, said the election represented a "huge night against the War on Drugs," noting that voters in Orlando, Florida and Austin, Texas also sealed victories for progressive district attorney candidates. In Orlando, Jose Garza made a pledge to decline cases involving possession and sale for under one gram of drugs a central message of his campaign. 

"Voters in five very different states have all sent the same message—the time has come for marijuana reform," tweeted the Marijuana Policy Project. 

"While drug decriminalization cannot fully repair our broken and oppressive criminal legal system or the harms of an unregulated drug market, shifting from absolute prohibition to drug decriminalization is a monumental step forward in this fight," Frederique said of Measure 110 in Oregon. "It clears the path toward treating drug use as a health issue, restores individual liberty, removes one of the biggest underpinnings for police abuse, and substantially reduces government waste."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·


PG&E Charged With 11 Felony Counts—Including Manslaughter—Over 2020 Zogg Fire

"PG&E has a history with a repeated pattern of causing wildfires that is not getting better," said Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett. "It's only getting worse."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Hold My Pearls': Debbie Dingell Lets Marjorie Taylor Green Have It Over Abortion Rights

The Michigan Democrat engaged in a verbal altercation with the far-right Republican lawmaker from Georgia on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Jon Queally ·


Dems Who Opposed Pentagon Cuts Received Nearly 4x More Donations From Weapons Makers

The latest passage of the NDAA "is particularly strong evidence that Pentagon contractors' interests easily take precedence over national security and the public interest for too many members of Congress," said one critic.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo