While most eyes were on the U.S. presidential race Tuesday night, it was a historic night in Oregon for a much different reason. Voters there approved Measure 110, becoming the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize drugs.
“It’s going to save a lot of people’s lives,” said Heather Sielicki, operations co-ordinator with the White Bird Clinic in Eugene, Oregon.
It means drug users with small amounts of hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine will not be charged criminally. Instead, they’ll be given two choices, either pay a $100 fine or attend an addiction recovery centre.
“Every day we see people struggling with addiction on our streets and in our communities, it’s our brother it’s our fathers. It’s a big crisis, and I think we’re able to look at it and start making some changes because what we’re doing right now is causing harm, it’s causing more harm than good, so I think we’re ready to try something different,” said Sielicki.
It’s something families B.C. who’ve lost loved ones to the overdose crisis have been calling for for years. Canada’s Association of Police Chiefs is also on board as is B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and even Premier-elect John Horgan.
“I think that’s critically important at this point and I fully support that,” Horgan said this summer.
So why hasn’t it happened?
“If you asked the people of Canada and they got to vote for decriminalization or not they’d probably vote for it, but we’re leaving it up to leaders who don’t have the actual courage to do it,” said Vancouver advocate Garth Mullins, host of the Crackdown podcast.
“So while thousands die here, we have leaders that are not moved by our corpses.”
And advocates here say while it’s only the first step in addressing the overdose crisis, it would save lives.
“There’s a huge amount of psychological damage done just by wondering when the police are going to come and having to use in hiding, back alleys, doorways that kind of thing,” said Fred Cameron, Operations Outreach Manager with SOLID Outreach.
And using alone, in hiding, has proven deadly.
Oregon’s new measures come into effect in February, leaving some hopeful Canada’s leaders will follow.
Oregon voters also made history with another major drug policy change Tuesday night, becoming the first state to legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, more commonly known as ‘magic mushrooms’.