If Oregon voters approve a drug decriminalization measure this November, state officials say it would reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system and save money that’s currently spent on arrests and incarceration.
IP 44, which officially qualified for the ballot last month, would remove criminal penalties for illicit drug possession and expand substance misuse treatment in the state. Three state panels recently released draft analyses of the proposal.
The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission published its draft report on the racial and ethnic impact of the measure this month. Members concluded it would reduce convictions for drug possession by about 91 percent statewide and also reduce racial disparities in arrests for illicit substances.
“This means that approximately 1,800 fewer Oregonians per year are estimated to be convicted of felony [possession of controlled substances] and nearly 1,900 fewer convicted of misdemeanor [possession of controlled substances],” the report states. “Prior academic research suggests this drop in convictions will result in fewer collateral consequences stemming from criminal justice system involvement.”
“Beyond the reductions described above, the changes proposed by IP44 would also lead to a reduction in racial disparities” for possession convictions, the commission said, adding that statistical analysis indicates these disparities would be “narrowed substantially” if voters pass the measure.
The body went into detail about the methodology behind their analysis in a separate draft document that also included charts highlighting the estimated impact.
During a public hearing on the draft impact statement on Thursday, several people argued that the analysis should go further by looking into racial disparities beyond convictions. They said those factors should also be studied when it comes to arrests, stops, sentencing and probation supervision.
“Our campaign has always been grounded in the fact that we know there are deep racial disparities within the criminal justice system, and Initiative Petition 44 will help reduce them,” Anthony Johnson, a chief petitioner for IP 44, told Marijuana Moment. “Now the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, an independent state commission of experts appointed by the Governor, has confirmed this.”
“Their draft report showed that Initiative Petition 44 would reduce overall convictions by 90 percent, Black convictions by over 93 percent, and Indigenous convictions by over 94 percent, as more Oregonians will be offered the treatment they need over punishment and jail. These are significant findings,” he said.
“We have urged the Commission to broaden its scope and also examine the disparities at every step of the process of simple drug possession cases, and how they are likely to also be reduced if IP44 passes. We know that disparities exist in arrests, pre-trial jail time, prosecution, and sentencing. Voters deserve to see the full extent to which this measure will reduce these disparities and get us closer to a more just criminal justice system.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to the commission for details on the timeline to finalize the report, but a representative was not immediately available.
The secretary of state’s Financial Estimate Committee also separately analyzed the initiative this month, concluding that the costs of implementing it and increasing investments into substance misuse treatment should be covered by existing cannabis tax revenue that would be redistributed under the measure. For each quarter of the fiscal year, marijuana tax revenue above $11.25 million would go to the decriminalization fund.
But while that redistribution of the cannabis dollars would mean less funding for various programs its currently supporting such as public schools and police, the state stands to save millions that are spent on arrests, probation and incarceration, the committee said.
“These savings are estimated at $0.3 million in 2019-21 and $24.5 million in 2021-23,” the draft report states.
Finally, the state’s Explanatory Statement Committee released a two-page document going over the details of the initiative as a way to concisely explain it for voters. That explanatory analysis must still be reviewed and approved by the Legislative Counsel Committee.
The initiative has been endorsed by more than 50 other organizations, including ACLU Oregon, United Seniors of Oregon, Oregon Latino Health Coalition, Oregon State Council For Retired Citizens, the NAACP of Eugene, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Action. Two currently serving district attorneys and two former U.S. attorneys have also backed the measure.
A separate measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes has also qualified for Oregon’s November ballot.
Jaeger, Kyle. “Oregon Drug Decriminalization Measure Will Reduce Racial Disparities And Save Money, State Officials Say.” Marijuana Moment, 27 July 2020, www.marijuanamoment.net/oregon-drug-decriminalization-measure-will-reduce-racial-disparities-and-save-money-state-officials-say/.
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