November’s Ballot will contain an important item for voters to consider, Issue 1. Issue 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would make several changes to current drug laws. As a constitutional amendment, if passed, it could not be changed by simple legislation. One major change is that Issue 1 would mandate criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing or using any drug or controlled substance cannot be classified as a felony but only as a misdemeanor. This would include such drugs as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, and controlled substances such as Oxycontin. This portion of the initiative would mean someone guilty of having 20 grams of fentanyl (enough to kill 10,000 people) would only get a slap on the wrist, similar to penalties for speeding tickets. Issue 1 would specifically prohibit jail time for these offenses unless someone has three offenses within 24 months.
Issue 1 would also require sentence reductions to persons already incarcerated by up to 25 percent if the individual participates in rehabilitative work or educational programming. Additionally, persons already convicted of these drug offenses could now ask the court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor even if they had not finished their sentence.
While this amendment purports to guide persons into treatment, this misguided proposal would just allow persons to continue their cycle of self-destruction without the intervention that many courts currently provide. For most addicts a trip to jail removes them from the environment that supports their drug abuse. The opportunity to be removed from this element along with a judge’s intervention is how many addicted individuals enter treatment. Issue 1 claims that cost-savings from a lower jail population will free up money for more drug treatment. It fails to recognize the path used to get persons into treatment.
As a County Commissioner I have had the opportunity to participate in the Shelby County Drug Task-force, Shelby County’s Stepping Up Initiative and the creation of the STAR Treatment House currently being built. I have observed how our local mental and drug treatment professionals work with individuals to get them help. A common route to treatment happens with an arrest for possession of drugs and a trip to jail. While we have never been fond of seeing our jails become detox centers, the controlled environment along with medical supervision has led many persons to seek treatment. Shelby County has not shirked this responsibility but has worked to compile a complete package including counseling, drug treatment, and job training. With the completion of the STAR House we will be able to provide additional housing resources that will help persons in treatment transition back into the community clean and sober.
I fear the passage of Issue 1 will destroy these efforts. California passed a similar proposal several years ago with Proposition 47. Research into the results has shown me that lax drug laws became an invitation to continue drug abuse for many persons. As these persons try to pay for their habit, property crimes are up.
I am not alone with my concerns. Issue 1 is opposed by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner, Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association, Ohio Association of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Association of Municipal and County Court Judges of Ohio, Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, the Ohio Bar Association, Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police.
I would urge everyone to research Issue 1. Please understand its implications before you vote. As a constitutional amendment, unintended consequences will not be able to be fixed by legislation by our representatives. Look to the out-of-state persons that have initiated this proposal and bank-rolled it with millions of dollars to get it on the ballot. Understand that if passed, Ohio will have some of the most lenient drug laws in the country. As we work to combat the opiates crisis in Ohio we do not need Issue 1 destroying our current efforts. I will be voting NO on Issue 1. I hope that you will join me.
The writer is a pharmacist and a Shelby County Commissioner.