Originally appeared on High Times.
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Although a number of reports have surfaced this week suggesting that Oregon is about to “decriminalize” the possession of drugs such as meth, cocaine, and heroin, it appears the overall message behind these journalistic offerings has been misconstrued.
What is true is that the Oregon legislature recently passed a bill that aims to reduce the penalties associated with the small time possession of illegal substances. However, nothing in the language of the proposal (House Bill 2355) would give law enforcement the freedom to simply handle drug possession cases with in a manner consistent with decriminalization. In fact, under the bill, not much would change for people caught holding drugs – they would still be arrested and entered into the criminal justice system the same as they always have been. The only benefit is that once their case goes before a judge, they could be given a less severe punishment than in times past.
Although there are a few different definitions of “decriminalization,” the most commonly used, the one tested in a growing number of states with respect to the possession of marijuana, eliminates the possibility of an “offender” being slapped with a felony or a criminal misdemeanor.
Instead of being dragged down to the local jail, minor pot offenders in areas with decriminalization laws are simply issued a citation for the offense, which varies in cost depending on the jurisdiction. But the criminal justice reform being attempted in Oregon does not let drug offenders off that easily. There is still a possibility that some of these unfrtunate souls could be sentenced to prison and be on the hook for thousands of dollars in fines.