The Oregon legislature passed two bills Thursday decriminalizing small amounts of six hard drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and ecstasy.
The first of the two bills now headed to the governor’s desk, HB 2355, decriminalizes possession of the drugs so long as the offender has neither a felony nor more than two prior drug convictions on record, according to the Lund Report. The second, HB 3078, reduces drug-related property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Republican State Sen. Jackie Winters claimed the war on drugs as it currently exists amounts to “institutional racism” due to how more frequently minorities are charged with drug crimes than whites.
“There is empirical evidence that there are certain things that follow race. We don’t like to look at the disparity in our prison system,” Winters said during a hearing. “It is institutional racism. We can pretend it doesn’t exist, but it does.”
The second bill reduces mandatory minimum sentences for many property crimes and also increases the number of previous convictions necessary for a felony charge. It provides $7 million in funding for diversion programs to help lower Oregon’s prison population.
Winters and other supporters of the bills argue the answer to America’s drug crisis is treatment, not prison time.
“It would be like putting them in the state penitentiary for having diabetes,” Democratic Rep. Mitch Greenlick told the Lund Report. “This is a chronic brain disorder and it needs to be treated this way.”