Psilocybin mushrooms. Justin Grinnell/PSU Vanguard

Oregon’s progressive drug measures

Oregon has become the first state in the United States to decriminalize possession of psilocybin and hard drugs as part of the passing of ballot measures 109 and 110 on Nov. 3, 2020.

The passing of both measures represents a huge step of progress in the continuing venture to end the war on drugs. The measure was passed with 55.73% of Oregonians voting yes, indicating the fifth occurrence of psilocybin decriminalization in the U.S., following the cities of Denver and Oakland in 2019, and Santa Cruz and Ann Arbor earlier this year. In addition to decriminalizing the possession of psilocybin mushrooms—also known as hallucinogenic or “magic” mushrooms—Measure 109 legalizes psilocybin therapy for the purpose of treating depression and anxiety.


Research regarding psilocybin therapy and other psychotherapeutic methods have gained more visibility in the past several years, following an increasing amount of studies presenting positive evidence for psilocybin’s merit in treating mental health issues. 


“Psychedelic therapy works very differently to current treatments,” said Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, in an article published by The Guardian.


“We’re seeing remarkable changes in patient-relevant outcomes, including increased quality of life, [a sense of] ‘flourishing’, the ability to feel pleasure again, and normal sexual functioning.”


Following the passing of Measure 109, the Oregon Health Authority has a two-year period to develop a plan that will allow for the regulated production of psilocybin for licensed therapists trained in guided psychotherapy.


“In trauma, your mind creates these riddles and puzzles to keep your consciousness away from things that are overwhelming,” said Dr. Chris Stauffer, head of the Social Neuroscience and Psychotherapy (SNAP) Lab at OHSU, in an interview with The Oregonian. “When MDMA and psilocybin are on board, you go on these metaphorical journeys.”


Both Stauffer’s SNAP Lab and his work at the Portland VA Medical Center have shown promising results in using psilocybin-assisted therapy to treat veterans with debilitating PTSD, as well as terminally-ill cancer patients, methamphetamine users and AIDS survivors.


Measure 110 decriminalizes the possession of hard drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine, changing the maximum penalty from a Class A misdemeanor—up to one year in jail and a fine of over $6,000—to a Class E violation, which can be settled with either a $100 fine or a health assessment. Additionally, the measure directs a part of the state’s marijuana tax revenue toward funding publicly-accessible rehabilitation clinics and establishing a new drug addiction treatment program.


“Voters in Oregon heard the message loud and clear: addiction is a medical problem and we need to treat it like one,” said Brad Reed, press secretary for the Vote Yes on 110 campaign. “The “just say no” mentality pushed by those who profit from locking people up for addiction prevailed for a long time. Criminal records harm job prospects, the ability to gain housing and even loans for education. Oregonians overwhelmingly understand that.”


Previously similar attempts from around the globe include Portugal’s 2001 initiative to decriminalize the possession of almost all drugs. In only five years, the amount of drug overdoses and HIV cases dropped significantly, according to a 2009 report by Scientific American.


“It’ll be extremely important [moving forward] that the money is allocated by the legislature quickly for addiction treatment and recovery services,” Reed said. “The millions of dollars saved from [law enforcement] will be re-allocated by Measure 110 to the fund for addiction treatment, which will raise between $12–59 million per year.”


As such, it’s likely Measure 110 will not only mitigate substance abuse in Oregon, but also redirect a hefty amount of money and labor spent by law enforcement on the arrest and prosecution of drug-related crimes. According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, 5.7% of prison inmates in Oregon are imprisoned under the pretense of drug-related crimes. However, drug offenses make up a whopping 46.2% of inmates in the U.S., according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ October 2020 report. The Federal Register estimated the U.S. spends $34–37,000 average on each inmate annually. Decriminalizing drugs will result in less incarcerated inmates, which will furthermore save money from prison expenditures.


“It’s much more likely that this’ll unfold in several other states first before we see anything at the national level. Expect it to roll out much like marijuana legalization, with state after state realizing the ‘drug war’ propaganda isn’t based on medical science,” Reed said. “Oregon is importantly taking the first step on this. We’re trailblazers.”