The travesty of the so-called war on drugs plays on a constant loop, destroying lives, families and communities, and starting over with each generation. It continues, seemingly on autopilot, despite decades of evidence showing it be a social, economic and environmental disaster.
And most people get that. Which is why it’s no surprise that a poll of 600 registered voters in Oregon, funded by ACLU of Oregon, found a vast majority – 73 percent – favored making simple drug possession a misdeameanor with access to treatment, rather than a felony.
As it stands now, felony charges for possessing even the most trace amount of drugs can carry stiff penalties and years, even decades, in prison. For about 1,500 Oregonians every year, drug possession charges are their first felony conviction, and one out three of those new felons have no prior criminal record, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.
And Oregon’s African-Americans are disproportionately ensnared by felony drug possession laws – more than double the rate of whites in 2015, all to preserve a relic of political posturing.
The gravity of a felony conviction goes far beyond a point-in-time behavior, a category of offense or punishment. It’s is attached to one’s identity for a lifetime. A felony shuts people out of housing and employment options. It can jeopardize future access to critically needed services, even food stamp assistance. It is a sentence that is far more likely to aggravate a person’s addiction or drug use than correct it.
Indeed, serious crimes should have consequences, but let’s repeat: One in three of those new felons have no prior criminal record.
FURTHER READING: Street Roots' ongoing coverage of the war on drugs
Oregon lawmakers have the opportunity to correct this destructive practice with House Bill 2355, which would defelonize low-level drug possession charges, reform sentencing policies, and emphasize public health and safety. Large, commercial quantities of drugs would still be felony offenses, but user-quantities of drugs would be treated as misdemeanors. The bill also gives the state critical data to identify patterns in profiling, along with training on identifying implicit bias.
Oregon needs this law. Its policies advance years of work in Salem to correct drug laws and the racial disparities they create.
We waste too many lives and spend too much money creating felons in our society. Let your local representative know you support HB 2355.