People in Oregon who are arrested while in the possession of small amounts of drugs will no longer face felony charges. Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed HB 2355 into law on Tuesday, reducing the classification of possession of certain quantities of drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Individuals convicted of the misdemeanor now face up to one year in prison. Prior to this move, those same individuals faced up to five years in prison for possession of any amount of cocaine and methamphetamine, and up to 10 years for heroin and MDMA, according to the Huffington Post.
Per the new law, individuals may be charged with a misdemeanor if they are found to be in the possession of less than two grams of cocaine or methamphetamine, less than one gram of heroin, less than 40 pills of oxycodone, less than one gram or five pills of MDMA (also known as ecstasy), or less than 40 units of LSD. Individuals possessing larger amounts of those drugs can still face felony charges.
The law also contains a provision to combat profiling of people “based solely on the individual’s real or perceived age, race, ethnicity, color, national origin, language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, homelessness or disability.”
In 2014, California became the first state to defelonize minor drug crimes after voters approved Proposition 47. The ballot measure also included the reclassification of other felonies such as certain theft and fraud charges as misdemeanors.
In recent years, the U.S. federal government has begun to rethink sentences for some drug-related crimes. CBS reported in 2016 that more than 26,000 federal drug offenders had received shortened prison terms as a result of sentencing guidelines changes that the U.S. Sentencing Commission approved in 2014. The reevaluation of drug penalties is not just occurring in the U.S., but has become a global effort. Countries are working to lessen the power of organized crime and promote rehabilitative treatments for drug users.
Changes to federal drug policies in the U.S. may be slow to progress under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But states like Oregon could play a significant role in ending the “war on drugs” through drug defelonization and rehabilitating drug users rather than imposing harsh penalties on them.