Oregon’s policy could also put pressure on nearby Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has legalized cannabis but has repeatedly refused to consider decriminalizing other drugs, despite soaring overdose deaths in 2020 that are on track to break records.
“We’ll definitely use that around advocacy in Canada. It’s not across the ocean in Portugal anymore; it’s on our back door,” said Scott Bernstein, director of policy at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition based in Vancouver, where the opioid crisis is at its worst.
Bernstein was critical of some aspects of Oregon’s policy—he doesn’t think people caught with drugs should have to pay a $100 fine, nor be compelled to do a health assessment, as most people who do drugs don’t have a problematic relationship with them.
However, he said it’s “a big step.”
Cannabis equity—policies that help people harmed by the war on drugs benefit from the legal industry—is another area where Canada is now lagging behind several U.S. states.
Aside from an expedited pardon process for weed possession that only a few hundred people have used, Canada has done little to help marginalized groups. Yet data analyzed by VICE News shows Black and Indigenous peoples were disproportionately arrested for cannabis possession across the country.
“In order for cannabis equity to be realized, it needs to be baked into legislation from the outset,” said Owusu-Bempah, senior author of the report.