Drug laws in Oregon are unfair. I should know.
I have been clean for decades, but my drug conviction from 26 years ago remains a barrier I deal with every day.
It made it nearly impossible for me to qualify for a home loan, even though I have funds for a down payment and good credit.
In fact, my past conviction has prevented me from moving at all and cut me out of my children's lives. Every time I find an apartment close to where my kids live, I get rejected during the background check of the application. I visit my children whenever I can, but they're a three-hour drive away, and that's not the same as living close by — picking them up from school, taking them out to dinner to celebrate a good grade, checking in on them when they're home sick with a cold. Unfortunately, my children have largely grown up without me.
The conviction has impacted me professionally, too, keeping me from getting jobs. And though I was eventually able to secure gainful employment, I regularly get passed over for raises and promotions. It's not because of the quality of my work; time and time again, bosses have told me they want to promote me. But when they try, the higher-ups usually reject the move, saying they can't risk hiring someone with a criminal record for a managerial position.
You would think that all of this would make me tremendously resentful. Instead, it motivates me to do my part to try to right this unjust system. I know I'm not alone.
An Oregonian gets arrested for simple drug possession about once every hour. In fact, drugs have been the top reason people have been arrested in the United States for at least the past 10 years.
And some people are targeted more than others. Oregonians use drugs at about the same rate, regardless of race, but people like me are much more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted of drug crimes. People of color are also sentenced more harshly and forced to pay higher fines. That's simply wrong.
This November, Oregonians will have the opportunity to create a more humane, effective, and equitable approach to treating drug addiction. The More Treatment campaign is working to put a measure on the November ballot. The initiative would expand access and funding to drug addiction treatment and services. It would shift Oregon to a health-based approach to addiction, which includes reclassifying some simple misdemeanor drug possession offenses. Anyone who wants and needs treatment will be able to get it — not just those who have money and the right insurance plan.
The initiative will provide treatment to those struggling with drug addiction by expanding services in every part of the state, and it will save taxpayers the enormous expenses associated with prosecuting people for addiction. These new treatment and recovery services would be paid for without raising taxes, because the money would come from Oregon's existing marijuana tax, which has brought in way more money than expected.
As someone who has lived for more than two decades with the harsh consequences of a mistake I made when I was 18, I wholeheartedly support the More Treatment campaign. While it can't erase the inequities I have encountered, it will help stop them in the future. We need to fix our broken system that unfairly targets Black and Brown Oregonians.
Let's stop ruining lives and start saving them.
Bobby Byrd is a Rock Creek resident.
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