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Ohio lawmakers have proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would, according to many, direct money toward the treatment of drug addiction instead of penalizing those convicted of drug crimes. However, not everyone is convinced this amendment will actually help those in need of drug treatment.

Voters in Ohio will soon decide themselves whether they support or oppose the amendment. Called Issue 1, the measure has created much discussion among policymakers, law enforcement, treatment providers, and citizens because of its somewhat drastic plan to decriminalize certain types of drug possession.

The Basics of Issue 1

Major changes that would occur if Issue 1 is approved:

  • Felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession and drug use crimes would be reclassified as misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period.
  • Possession of fewer than 20 grams of powdered fentanyl or a range of other illegal drugs would be a misdemeanor with no jail time.
  • Judges would be prohibited from sending people to prison if they violate probation with something other than a new crime, such as missing an appointment.
  • Prison time would be cut for offenders who complete rehabilitation programs, except those convicted of murder, rape or child molestation.
  • Those convicted of certain drug crimes would be allowed to petition the court for re-sentencing or release or to have the charge changed.

On the other hand, drug trafficking crimes would remain felonies, and the money saved from fewer inmates would be put into drug treatment and crime victim programs. The idea behind this proposal is individuals convicted of drug crimes would have the opportunity to get real help for their addiction, stopping the cycle and helping them get back on their feet again.

Responses to the Proposed Amendment (Issue 1) Are Strong on Both Sides

Stephen JohnsonGrove of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center supports the amendment and its potential for providing effective treatment rather than prison time. “It’s a failure of imagination, honestly, to think accountability always has to look like a set of bars. It doesn’t,” JohnsonGrove said. “There are other ways to improve behavior.”

Democratic nominee Rich Cordray agrees. Cordray said in a written statement “Eight years of failure have given us a tripling of opioid-related deaths and rising drug crime. As governor, I will work with law enforcement to make sure drug dealers are convicted and serve long prison sentences while people who need substance abuse treatment can get it in our communities.”

However, opponent Mike DeWine remains firm in his opposition to the amendment. “Richard Cordray could not be more wrong about anything,” said DeWine, who went on to state that Issue 1 would give Mexican cartels a “road map straight into our neighborhoods. It would gut the progress we have made and destroy lives, destroy families.”

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is also opposed to Issue 1. “If Issue 1 passes, Ohio might have some of the most lenient drug crime laws in the nation,” she warned. “Issue 1 may be well-intentioned in design, but its passage would gravely endanger Ohioans. It would be devastating in effect.”

The official purpose of the amendment is summarized as follows:

“This Amendment would add a new section 12 to Article XV of the Ohio Constitution to reduce the number of people in state prison for low-level, nonviolent drug possession or drug use offenses or for non-criminal probation violations and by providing sentence credits for participation in rehabilitative programs and to direct the savings achieved by such reductions in incarceration to drug treatment programs and other purposes.

The People of the State of Ohio find and declare that drug addiction is a serious societal problem that presents issues of public health and safety and incarcerating users rather than by providing treatment poses a threat to public safety and is an inefficient use of criminal justice resources, and further find and declare that prison spending should be focused on violent and serious offenses and preparing individuals for release through rehabilitation while maximizing alternatives for non-serious non-violent crime.”

Read the full Issue 1 statement here.

Tim Craft of High on Hope Ministries, believes there are some parts of Issue 1 that will be beneficial. “There are some parts of it that are extreme,” says Tim Craft, “but I see some bullet points that may be beneficial. I always say this: abstinence is not freedom. Until we can teach people to live free, they’re always going to live in a circle. There are too many people who are incarcerated and could use treatment and get their life back in order.”

Issue 1 will be included in the Nov. 6th ballot for the public to vote. Opponents want a better plan that will not be so lenient on those convicted of drug crimes. Supporters hope this is a first step toward directing many drug addicts to treatment that will change their lives for the better.

Northland and The Ridge have not taken a public position on this issue and are providing this information, so our readers can be informed and make their own decision on this issue.