How Not to End the War on Drugs


Last year, Oregon voters decriminalized possession of most hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, etc. The War on Drugs announced 50 years ago by President Nixon had failed, they claimed, so decriminalization would work better. Measure 110, which passed by a 17% margin, replaced the 'Arrest and Send to Jail' model with a citation and a $100 fine.


And the best part is: they don't even have to pay the $100 fine. They just call the 24/7 Addiction Recovery line, do their screening, which might lead to an offer of counseling or treatment, and the fine goes away: problem solved. Because treatment will work, they said.


Under the old system, about 9,000 people a year were arrested and charged with a felony or misdemeanor. That is over 170 per week. That is a lot of people, and many ended up with records, and some races got arrested more than other races, and there was about a 70-80% recidivism rate according to the Multnomah county district attorney. So you can imagine that a lot of people described the old system as overly punitive, racist and ineffective and wanted it replaced with something better.


So drawing on ancient wisdom, and modern insights, they came up with a new system based on the Carrot or the Stick. And they put this system to a vote, and voila: Oregon has a better system.

The Carrot in this case is the chance to receive a screening by calling the 24/7 Recovery Line, with possible treatment or counseling if needed. The Stick is the $100 fine if they don't make the phone call. They are given a clear choice: make the call or pay the $100. Who wouldn't make the call, right?


Well apparently a lot of people don't make the call. Remember, under the old system, about 9,000 people a year, 170+ per week, got arrested. So how many calls does the Recovery Line, staffed 24/7 at taxpayer expense receive? Does it get 170+ calls a week?


No. So far it has been getting about 1 call a week. Where are the other 169+ people? For some reason, the fear of the $100 fine hasn't compelled very many people to make the call. Who would have foreseen that?


Jim Ferraris, immediate past president of the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, said:


"People are still committing crimes to get money, to buy dope, to support their habit. So how is this [decriminalization] going to impact that cycle?"


Ferraris has a good point. Under the old system, 9,000 people a year, went into the system which disrupted their drug lifestyle. When they were in jail waiting trial, they weren't robbing us to buy more drugs. They may have returned to their life of crime at some point, but at least while they were in the system, the crime rate was slowed down.


The obvious conclusion is that this new system is leading to more crime, not less.


But where did they go wrong? Why isn't this system working?


Perhaps the fine voters of Oregon, failed to consider things from the drug abusers point of view. Drug abusers enjoy using drugs. That's why they do it. They consider using drugs to be like a Chocolate Cake. Why would they want to swap the pleasure of a Chocolate Cake for the Carrot of treatment?


This is where the Stick, the punishment, comes in. The purpose of the Stick is to make the carrot look all the more attractive. The $100 fine is supposed to make the phone call and assessment look like the best option.


But why would a drug abuser or addict care about a $100 fine? A measly $100 fine that they don't have to pay anyway.


In essence, this new system in Oregon, gives drug addicts and drug abusers a free pass. An Oregon police officer, who must remain anonymous, said:


"We're already hearing of people coming into Oregon to use because they know they can do drugs and sleep outside and police can't do anything about it."


Soon this magnet effect will blight Oregon and Portland, the 'City of Roses' as more and more drug addicts migrate to Oregon to take advantage of this new system. Crime will keep increasing. Drug traffic always leads to robberies and murder. People will not be safe in their homes or out in public.


Don't believe it? Google Portland murder rate. Violent crime is up all over the country as politicians talk about defunding the police. But murder and violent crime is up more, way, way, way more, in Portland than any other major city. And Portland is in the only state that decriminalized hard drugs last year. Don't think there is a connection? Give it more time, the connection will become more obvious as time goes along.


But the old system was ineffective. They had to do something, right? No, they didn't have to do anything. Maybe the old system was working. Maybe things would have been much worse without the old system. We just don't know.


But if the old system was ineffective, that does not mean any new system will be better. It might be wise to look for evidence that a new system would work, before making the jump. Common sense should have told Oregon voters 3 things.

  1. People abuse drugs because they like using drugs.

  2. Most drug abusers do not want to change.

  3. A $100 fine is not enough to motivate people to go into treatment.

This is what they should have done.

  1. Kept all the criminal penalties for drug possession: potential prison time, probation, etc.

  2. Set up the free treatment options with the 24/7 Recovery Line.

  3. The criminal charges are held in suspension for every person who is in treatment by their court date. When treatment is successfully completed the charges go away.

Many, many drug addicts that would not choose treatment to avoid a $100 fine, would choose treatment to avoid prison time. Of course, many of them will relapse after the legal charges are gone, but not all of them. Some of them will decide the straight life is better than their old life and will stick with it.


For the ones that only stay straight while the legal charges are hanging over their head, treatment costs less taxpayer money than prison time, so even if they only do treatment to avoid jail, the public still wins. And while they are in treatment and being monitored, they are not out robbing us and stealing our TVs.


Who could defend Oregon's new failed system when they could have done something that made sense, as suggested above? Well a lot of people actually. Some people believe all drugs should be legal. This new program included the $100 fine to fool voters into thinking it would actually help reduce drug addiction. And so they voted for it. They could not get enough votes if they admitted from the start, that drug legalization was the goal. So they had to say, "this approach will get more people into treatment, and will work better than the current system."


The people that designed and promoted this new system knew that it would give a free pass to drug abusers. That was their intention, not just an unfortunate outcome. The voters were duped, and now it is time for the people to go back and fix this mistake. Bring back the criminal penalties. Provide treatment as an alternative to criminal penalties. Treatment is the Carrot, criminal conviction and prison time is the Stick.


CW Jasper

July, 2021

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