The cart before the horse

Here's an in-depth look at where we stand in Oregon these days on street drugs. Last fall, the majority of voters (not including me) decriminalized possession of some pretty hefty amounts of some serious controlled substances. The jury is still out on whether that will make our state's serious addiction problems better or worse.

My feeling is that it won't help. There's a lot of magical thinking going on. The criminal justice system is now out of the picture for most addicts, but what system is in the picture?

When you drive around Portland looking at the tent cities, populated to a large extent by addicts and mentally ill people with no treatment options and no incentive to rebuild their lives, you wonder where the salvation is going to come from.

Even many recovery leaders here who support ending the criminalization of addiction are deeply concerned the state basically jumped off the decriminalization cliff toward a fractured, dysfunctional and underfunded treatment system that's not at all ready to handle an influx of more people seeking treatment....

Oregon supporters of decriminalization point to Portugal as a reform model. In 2001, Portugal dramatically changed its approach and decriminalized all drugs. The nation began treating addiction as a public health crisis. There, anyone caught with less than a 10-day supply of any drug gets mandatory medical treatment.

But Marshall and others point out that Portugal took more than two years to transition carefully to a new system and replace judges, jails and lawyers with doctors, social workers and addiction specialists.

"So we put the cart before the horse," he says.

I see the boy wonder county d.a. is also extensively quoted as the expert on the subject. That's appropriate. Voting for decriminalization was like voting for him. The status quo was broken, and the voters felt they needed to shake things up in a big way. 

Sometimes that works out, but usually it doesn't.


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