Oregon made history when voters approved a ballot initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs and expand access to treatment in November. Now, a number of other U.S. states could follow suit, with a New York lawmaker introducing a similar decriminalization bill last week and proposed legislation waiting in the wings in Washington State and California.
A newly proposed resolution in Virginia, meanwhile, would have state officials begin studying decriminalization models, such Oregon’s, that move away from a crime-control approach to drug use and instead emphasize public health.
“Such reforms have resulted in significant financial savings to such states,” the Virginia resolution says, “in both the adjudication of criminal cases and the reduced burden on jails and prisons.”
Many drug policy reform advocates and observers still see state legislatures as a less likely path to all-drug decriminalization than citizen initiatives, and indeed some influential backers are already setting their sights on 2022 ballots. But the efforts emerging in statehouses so far this year are an early indication that decriminalization is finding more traction with state lawmakers after an election in which voters approved every major state-level marijuana and drug reform measure put before them.
Here’s a rundown of some of the decriminalization proposals being considered as this year’s state legislative sessions get underway:
A bill introduced last week by Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D), S1284, would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of any controlled substance and instead levy fines of $50.
“The purpose of this legislation is to save lives and to help transform New York’s approach to drug use from one based on criminalization and stigma to one based on science and compassion,” the bill says, “by eliminating criminal and civil penalties for the personal possession of controlled substances.”
Low-level possession would be changed from a