Sentinel Surveillance of Emerging Drug Decriminalization Legislation

More than one million people are arrested annually for drug possession across the United States. People charged with and convicted of criminal drug offenses can face devastating collateral consequences, including eviction, unemployment, loss of the right to vote, and deportation. Research shows that criminalization of drug possession contributes to the marginalization of people with substance use disorders, results in stark racial disparities, and costs billions of dollars. Given these harmful and disproportionate impacts, advocates and communities have long campaigned for the decriminalization of drug possession.

Oregon voters approved Measure 110 in November 2020, which reclassified personal possession of all controlled substances from a criminal to a civil violation. The measure, which became operative in February 2021, also allocated funding for community-based organizations to provide substance use treatment and harm reduction services. Decriminalization efforts have gained momentum since Oregon’s measure passed, with several state legislators introducing similar decriminalization bills.

This dataset provides a high-level overview of legislation that decriminalizes personal possession of most or all controlled substances (please refer to the Research Protocol for the full details). It tracks enacted laws, as well as bills that have been introduced on or after January 1, 2021, in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The dataset is longitudinal, capturing movement in laws and bills from March 15, 2022, to August 1, 2022. It does not include legislation that decriminalizes possession of only a few specific substances (e.g., marijuana only or psychedelic substances only).

This dataset was created using the sentinel surveillance of emerging laws and policies legal mapping method with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The information contained herein does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions regarding your legal rights or obligations, contact an attorney in your jurisdiction.

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