Oregon legislature recently passed a bill that significantly reduces penalties for possession of illicit drugs including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. The Oregon House passed the House Bill 2355 with a vote of 36-23 on July 4 and the Senate passed it 20-9 on July 6. Gov. Kate Brown received the bill one week later. HB-2355 demonstrates how the state is taking a bold stand against its current criminal justice system in relationship to drug possession charges.
HB-2355 sets to fix the United States’ mass incarceration problem, in which minorities often suffer the most. But Oregon is taking the initiative to ease off the ineffective “War on Drugs.” HB-2355 would change the course of action to rehabilitate drug users instead of locking them up. The bill would drop felony charges for possession almost any kind of illegal street drug.
In addition, HB-2355 calls for data collection and analysis to prevent more disparity in the criminal justice system. This is intended to educate police departments on new ways they can avoid high minority arrest rates.
The governor admitted that the bill doesn’t solve all the cracks in the system. “While we still have much work ahead, HB-2355 represents an important step towards creating a more equitable justice system to better serve all Oregonians,” Gov. Kate Brown told The Washington Post. “Addressing disparities that too often fall along racial and socioeconomic lines should not be political issues. Here in Oregon, we’re demonstrating that we can make meaningful progress to improve the lives of Oregonians by working together around our shared values.”
In Oregon, the incarceration rate of African Americans is 5.6 times higher than the rate of whites, according to The Sentencing Project. The advocacy group focuses on prison reform. The Oregon Health Authority agrees that African Americans are arrested at a higher rate. Another study from Investigation West, entitled Unequal Justice, found that Latino and black residents were far more likely to be charges in drug offenses and for jaywalking and littering. The Oregon Health Authority agrees that African Americans are arrested at a higher rate.