As we all wait for more votes to be counted, a radical measure on Oregon ballots passed last night. Measure 110 was approved by Oregonians making Oregon the first state to decriminalize the possession of all illegal drugs, including heroin and cocaine. The use of psilocybin—the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms— also was approved for mental health treatment, Measure 109. Is it any surprise that or all states, Oregon is the first state to do this?
Legalizing marijuana looks tame now, right? Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana in 1973. The idea is to issue a $100 fine instead of putting drug users in jail. The fine goes to drug treatment programs. Oregon’s plan is to focus on treatment and rehabilitation, not jail time, to deal with the drug abuse crisis.
With results from 76% of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, 59% of Oregonians approved Measure 110, the drug-decriminalization referendum, and 56% voted for Measure 109 on psilocybin therapy, according to the Associated Press.
“There are a lot of parallels between what Oregon is trying to do now and what states were doing with marijuana 40 years ago,” said Robert Mikos, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who has written about marijuana legalization. “As long as the sky doesn’t fall in Oregon, some other states might follow suit.”
Oregon’s Measure 110 makes possession of any controlled substance, including heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines, a violation punishable by a maximum fine of $100 or a completed health assessment. It also establishes a new statewide drug-treatment system funded in part by tax revenue from marijuana sales and state prison savings.
A lot of money was raised for the Measure 110 proposition on the ballot. State Democrats, as well as the ACLU, supported it.
The campaign in favor of Measure 110 raised $4.5 million and the one for Measure 109 raised $5.7 million, while opposing campaigns raised virtually nothing, according to campaign finance reports.
Proponents of Measure 110, including the Democratic Party of Oregon and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said people suffering with addiction should have greater access to rehabilitation and not face criminal punishment.
“We don’t have enough tools in our tool box, there’s just no question about that,” said Democratic State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, from Portland.
Republicans and some of Oregon’s district attorneys don’t support the social experiment. Their reasoning is that it is counterproductive to simply issue fines as the threat of criminal penalties pushes drug offenders into treatment programs.
Measure 109 allows the state public health department two years “to develop regulations and create a program responsible for manufacturing and dispensing psilocybin to adults aged 21 or older seeking therapy with a trained facilitator for everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to nicotine dependence.” Frankly, as extreme as this sounds at first glance, it may be a reasonable experiment in mental health treatment.
“We’re going to take our time and do it right,” said Tom Eckert, a psychotherapist who was a chief sponsor of the bill along with his psychotherapist wife Sheri. “We’re in a mental-health crisis and we need new treatment options.”
Like cannabis, the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies psilocybin as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it isn’t approved for medical use and there is a high potential for abuse and addiction.
Psilocybin is a naturally occurring chemical in more than 200 species of fungi that can cause visual and auditory hallucinations and an inability to discern fantasy from reality.
Research has shown that it can reduce anxiety and stress among cancer patients and people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some supporters of its medical use also say it can be helpful for anyone seeking assistance with a persistent mental-health issue.
The arguments for and against LSD and ‘magic mushrooms’ being used in mental health treatments have been in discussions for over 40 years in treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The practice has been banned in most places but a renewed interest has emerged in recent years. Professionals in the field think that if administered properly, patients can benefit from the therapeutic use of hallucinogenic drugs.
Matthew Johnson, PhD, a research psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, says he’d be surprised if hallucinogenic drugs didn’t have a proper medical use “under some constrained, limited circumstances.”
“Most powerful substances that we know of, that have powerful effects on the central nervous system, are like any powerful tool,” says Johnson, who has studied how psilocybin affects depression. “They can have dangerous effects, or beneficial effects if judiciously used in a context where the dangers are known and mechanisms are in place to address them.”
Not all mental health professionals are on board with psilocybin therapy.
But the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association and the American Psychiatric Association opposed the measure, arguing that there isn’t enough evidence to support psilocybin’s use in mental-health treatment.
“Psilocybin research trials are in the early stages,” said OPPA President Nicole Cirino. “We need to know what type of mental illness it actually treats and what safety precautions, doses, follow-up measures we need in place to use it safely and effectively.”
Mark Zuckerberg and his wife contributed a half-million dollars in support of Measure 110 through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Advocacy, it was reported in October.
The new half-million-dollar cash contribution made on Thursday, which was first reported by The Oregonian, makes the Zuckerbergs the initiative’s second-biggest backers, after the Drug Policy Alliance’s political arm Drug Policy Action, which has given $850,000. On Friday, the ACLU of Oregon chipped in $100,000.
“People with addiction need help, not punishment, and we are excited so many people are stepping forward to help win a more humane, equitable, and effective approach to drug addiction in Oregon,” Yes on Measure 110 Campaign Manager Peter Zuckerman told Marijuana Moment. “Now’s our moment to stop ruining lives and start saving them.”
There were 8,903 drug simple drug possession arrests in the state in fiscal year 2018, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission—or more than one every hour.
The commission projected that the decriminalization initiative would reduce felony and misdemeanor convictions for drug possession by 91 percent, and that reduction would be “substantial for all racial groups, ranging from 82.9 percent for Asian Oregonians to approximately 94 percent for Native American and Black Oregonians.”
It just all sounds so, well, Oregon, doesn’t it? Violent riots are often a nightly routine in places like Portland and it’s the birthplace of Antifa. What could go wrong? It seems like an unwise plan to take away the fear of jail time for drugs to younger people, in particular, which is what happens when something is decriminalized. It leaves the impression that, for example, the use of heroin or cocaine is a-ok. Why legalize a dangerous substance if not to give passive approval of its use? I’m not sure that the threat of $100 fines is enough to get more people into treatment programs.