September 2, 2023 8:01 AM ET

Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday

By Scott SimonJonathan Levinson

It’s been two years since Oregon decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs. It’s an effort to offer alternatives to the criminal justice system for those struggling with substance use.


It’s been more than two years since Oregon started a new social experiment to try to change the state’s approach to drug addiction. Like the rest of the country, Oregon used to incarcerate people for drug possession. But in 2020, voters decriminalized drugs and proposed a new system. Instead of taking people to jail, offer them services and treatment. Joining us now to talk about how that’s going is Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Jonathan Levinson, who’s been reporting on this story. Jonathan, thanks so much for being with us.

JONATHAN LEVINSON, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: What was the argument that people made for tearing down the old system and trying to start something new?

LEVINSON: Well, nationally, we have a very punitive approach to drug addiction. You know, we arrest people. We charge them with crimes. We fine them, incarcerate them. And it might get people off the street or out of sight for a bit, but in terms of addressing addiction, it is quite harmful and can actually make recovery much more difficult. Jail is incredibly disruptive, you know, even if it’s just a few weeks. People lose jobs. They lose housing. Bills can pile up. And then once you’re out, parole is very difficult and cumbersome and expensive.

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