Reducing the penalty for illegal drug use is not the answer

By Scott Olson

The Creswell Chronicle

Sometimes it seems that politicians create new legislation for the sake of toying with the system, trying to find solution to an issue that has an unsolvable answer.

Take House Bill 2355, which was passed by the Oregon State Legislature recently. While it may have some good merits on the surface, like working to reduce racial profiling by police, it’s the other aspect of the law, which was added at the last minute – reducing jail time for first offenders caught with small amounts of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs – that leaves me scratching my head.

The new law reclassifies possession of several illegal drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. The idea is to reduce jail time for first-time offenders, while offering them a chance to receive treatment for their addiction. The argument among our political leaders is that prisons and jails are near capacity and they are expensive to build and operate. So treatment, instead of jail time, could be a way of reducing costs and helping drug users deal with their addiction.

The problem I have with this philosophy is that people who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol have to want to change. Many don’t. And they will be back out on the street faster than a blink of an eye looking for ways to help feed their habit.

We as citizens will pay the price as addicts serve less, if any time in jail. Our communities already riddled with thefts and burglaries to help feed and pay for this lifestyle. Don’t believe me, try reading police reports of all local law enforcement agencies in Lane County. I see this every week as I type in the crime reports for the newspaper.

About a year and a half ago, my daughter’s apartment was broken into and all her electronic devices were stolen. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the people who broke into her apartment were looking for items they could take to a pawn shop or put on Craigslist to make a quick buck to help pay for their drug habit. Those of us who go about our lives lawfully are the victims of those who are addicts.

Maybe what our legislators should have done was look at ways of providing treatment to first-time offenders while they are serving their time for illegal drug possession in jail or prison. This way they can receive the treatment they need, while not being allowed to have the temptation of taking illegal drugs again – and committing other crimes to do it.

I know communities like Creswell have a hard enough time trying to keep a handle on their homeless (transient) communities. Now, it seems, that we could be adding to this issue, by being too lenient on those who could fall into the trap of illegal drug addiction.

It will only be a matter of time before our legislators realize that this experiment is causing more harm than good to the citizens of the state.