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Oregon's Mistake

No. Oregon did not err in decriminalizing drug use. They erred in stopping the experiment too soon.

In his Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems, scientist Jay W. Forrester wrote:

"Social systems belong to the class called multi-loop nonlinear feedback systems."

Such systems are inherently difficult, if not impossible, for the human mind to comprehend. They are complex and inherently counterintuitive. This does not mean we should give up, but that we should keep trying to find a solution until we succeed. Criminalization of the drug alcohol (Prohibition) failed. We recognized the failure, and, while our current approach may not prevent all harm, it does minimize it. Our approach to addictive nicotine has also failed to prevent a staggering amount of deaths and disease, but I believe nicotine prohibition would also lead to more harm than good.

I spent a few days in downtown Portland last summer. The streets were ugly, but more time and creative solutions might have brought improvement as they have in other places.

Furthermore, the fact that Oregon acted alone in the country doomed the experiment from the start. The simple fact that a person addicted to drugs illegal to use in one state might want to move to Oregon in order to use legally, shifted an enormous, and undeserved, burden to the State of Oregon.

My Economics 101 professor Ken Elzinga pointed out circa 1970 that Prohibition's spawn, the black market, dooms such strategies to failure.

I hope more states, or even counties or cities, will decriminalize drugs, but we really need the entire country to adopt harm reduction policies. Criminalization of drugs supports the drug cartels, corrupting our neighbor Mexico. Every time law enforcement boasts about another huge drug bust, they in fact demonstrate their huge failure.

Just imagine the difference if we had never outlawed opium dens. We might not have progressed to heroin, let alone fentanyl.

Berry Edwards, MD

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