Drug Policy

Oregon Ballot Initiative Would Decriminalize Low-Level Possession of All Drugs

Measure 110 would reduce felony convictions for drug possession by an estimated 95 percent.


Voters in Oregon will have the chance to approve an ambitious criminal justice reform agenda this year. The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, or Measure 110, would reclassify low-level possession of illegal substances from a misdemeanor to a violation, prompting either a $100 dollar fine or a health assessment.

Drug trafficking would still be considered a felony, while substantial possession would be reduced to a misdemeanor. The measure would also expand rehabilitation services and open 24-hour Addiction Recovery Centers. 

According to a report released by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, the proposed reclassifications could lead to 1,800 fewer Oregonians being convicted of felony possession of a controlled substance each year, a drop of about 95 percent from the current conviction rate. 

The report notes that Measure 110 would particularly benefit racial minorities, as racial disparities in both arrests and convictions would "fall substantially." For instance, arrests of blacks, who are disproportionately affected by the drug war, would fall 93.7 percent. It would fall 82.9 percent for Asians, 86.5 for Hispanics, 94.2 for Native Americans, and 91.1 for whites.

The report adds that "inequities [may] exist in police stops, jail bookings, bail, pretrial detention, or other areas" but there is not "sufficient or appropriate data to examine those stages."

Measure 110's addiction programs would cost $57 million annually, to be funded entirely through excess taxes collected on cannabis sales, which are expected to net $182.4 million from 2021 to 2023. Anthony Johnson, one of the chief petitioners of the Yes for 110 Campaign, predicts that as tax revenues increase and the state realizes the savings incurred by decriminalization, even more funds can be reallocated to treatment and rehabilitation.

The campaign has primarily been organized online, leaning on supporters to get the word out. "There's no playbook for how to campaign in a pandemic," Johnson says. Nonetheless, he thinks it has "a really good chance of winning" this fall. "Our communications with voters all across the state shows that voters understand that the status quo is not working. We're clearly not going to arrest our way out of addiction."

The measure has been endorsed by many prominent individuals and organizations, ranging from the Oregon branch of the American Civil Liberties Union to several county district attorneys.

Oregon has long been at the cutting edge of drug reform efforts. The state legalized recreational cannabis in a 2014 ballot measure, and a 2017 law slashed some penalties for possession of small quantities of cocaine, LSD, and other illegal substances. Oregon voters will also have a chance this November to approve medicinal use of psilocybin at licensed treatment centers.