The cannabis community knows all too well that the Drug War has been a terrible failure with racist and classist consequences. Communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs. Here in Oregon, Black and indigenous residents have especially suffered from over policing, getting arrested and convicted at a higher rate than other races and, in turn, experiencing detrimental collateral consequences such the inability to get a job, find housing, or further their education. In addition to the racist nature of the War on Drugs is the toll placed upon the poor and the working class. The wealthy, you can look to many celebrity examples, usually don’t end up with severe criminal consequences for their drug use, while those without means are further locked into a cycle of poverty. February 1st, 2021, marks the first day that Measure 110 goes into effect, eliminating harmful drug possession arrests and moving Oregon towards a health-based approach to treating drug use and addiction.
Serving as a co-chief petitioner and working on the M110 campaign was an honor of mine and so many people have had to put in decades of work to dismantle tons of misinformation and propaganda to move us forward. We are seeing a groundswell of support for ending harmful drug policies, including from law enforcement. The AFSCME 75 labor union endorsed Measure 110, and 10% of their membership is comprised of prison guards, and I was pleased to read in OPB how a Portland police officer was keeping an open mind:
Police and criminal justice agencies across Oregon are figuring out how to deal with the new law. Portland Police Officer Melissa Newhard thinks it may save officers time, as they can now simply write a ticket instead of taking someone to jail.
“This will be a little bit quicker, like a traffic stop,” she said. “But … we’re still going to get these people’s names. There will be that record that they have been stopped with illegal drugs on them, whether or not they went to jail.”
Newhard said the Portland Police Bureau has no plans to reduce the number of officers on the street because of the new law. Nor does she believe Measure 110 will reduce the number of times police search people they stop or their vehicles, because law enforcement is still tasked with preventing the sale of drugs. Newhard expects it will be relatively easy to distinguish between people carrying drugs for personal use and those carrying for sale. Officers can weigh contraband if necessary.
When the great Michelle Alexander first saw a sign that stated that “The Drug War Is the New Jim Crow” she was taken aback, thinking that the claim was too extreme, too radical. Over time, she “came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.”
Like Professor Alexander (who attended high school in Ashland, so Oregonians we can tout her as one of us), I was at first skeptical of claims made about cannabis and the ills of the Drug War. As I learned more and saw firsthand the tragic consequences of the War on Drugs, both personally and professionally, I knew that we had an obligation to end a harmful war being waged upon on our own citizens. Thank you, Oregon, for helping lead the way. There is still a lot of work to be done in Oregon and across the nation. Please support the efforts of the Oregon Health and Justice Recover Alliance as we all work to ensure that the will of the voters is fully enacted and the Drug Policy Alliance, who are leading the fight across the United States, and the globe.