by Andrew Bateman,

The November 6th election, with all its national implications, is fast approaching. Ohio Issue 1, a proposed state constitutional amendment to reduce drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, is frequently used as a barometer of sorts amid ongoing coverage of state campaign races. The barrage of 30-second campaign ads are hyperbolic at best, and some feature fear tactics to persuade a no vote on Issue 1. What follows is my practice at a more reasoned case against the issue with hopes you come to the conclusion that Ohio Issue 1 hurts Clermont County and other local governments more than it helps.

What follows is my practice at a more reasoned case against the issue.

On its surface, Issue 1 has its merits. Given that the United States is the world leader in incarceration, 5 states have already passed similar legislation aimed at reforming the current criminal justice system. Ohio Issue 1 intends to reduce the state’s incarceration rate by reclassifying penalties for drug offenses such as possession, purchasing, and the use of illicit drugs or drug paraphernalia from a felony to a misdemeanor. The resulting reduction of over 50,000 prisoners would generate savings to the state. Money saved would go back into the system for addiction treatment and rehabilitation services as well as crime victim funds.The initiative places additional value on treatment by incentivizing prisoners that participate in rehabilitation services with a potential 25% sentence reduction.The reclassification would not apply to drug trafficking offenses, preventing drug dealers from dodging hard time.

Ohio Issue 1 misses the mark on two interrelated key points.

For all the big concepts of saving money and improving public safety, the ballot initiative over-simplifies the nuances of the criminal justice system and disregards the true state of addiction services within local governments. Ohio Issue 1 misses the mark on two interrelated key points: Access to money and access to treatment.

The amendment would immediately reduce the prison population. First, by granting prisoners with previous applicable felony convictions the right to appeal for a reduced sentence. Secondly by prohibiting jail or prison time for the same offenses, provided it is not the offenders third time in 24 months. Only 15 percent of inmates in state prisons across the United States are incarcerated for drug offenses. A sentence reduction of the approximately 7,500 eligible prisoners in Ohio would be a limited, one-time savings

Ohio Issue 1 places an undue burden on local governments to process repeat offenders up to three times before sentencing them to jail.

Not all of Ohio’s counties and municipalities have the same needs; but many face similar problems of overcrowded jails and ever-tightening budget crunches. And while inaccurate to say Ohio Issue 1 decriminalizes drugs, it certainly won’t deter people from buying and using drugs, which if the initiative passes, would shift sole responsibility of processing drug offenders to local governments. Ohio Issue 1 places an undue burden on local governments to process repeat offenders up to three times before sentencing them to jail.

Issue 1 is a major threat to the progress that has been made by county governments and agencies to address the opioid crisis in Ohio. Drug courts, which mandate treatment as an alternative to prison, are among the most effective methods of rehabilitation for addicts, many of whom would otherwise not seek treatment on their own. Issue 1 removes that authority from the judicial system and puts vulnerable offenders back in harm’s way. The treatment funding mechanism proposed by Ohio Issue 1 is not well-defined and could be distributed through grants. This complicates local government’s ability to allocate funds year-over-year and create stable infrastructure for addiction treatment programs and services.

In recent years national and state politics have been more cognizant of the opioid crisis, but the most significant positive impacts are made through collaboration between local government agencies and law enforcement. Effective programs such as quick-response teams and recovery coaches could be on the chopping block when local law enforcement and jails absorb more of the state’s cost.

Andy Bateman is a resident of Loveland, Ohio and serves as a member of the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

As complex as Ohio Issue 1 is, it is understandable that the easier argument against it is to say that it normalizes drug use and puts dangerous criminals out on the streets. In my opinion it is more interesting to evaluate it in practical terms. One major concern with Ohio Issue 1 is, as a constitutional amendment, it does not pertain to an individual’s rights or freedoms and would be more difficult to repeal once approved.

One major concern with Ohio Issue 1 is that it is a constitutional amendment.

The choice is ours on November 6th. Please take the time to read for yourself the ​full language of the Statewide Issue​. My intent is to vote against it and I urge others to do the same.


  1. Why make felons out of drug users? Because it enriches America’s for-profit prison corporations.

    Consider this: despite the fact that violent crime in America has been on the decline, the nation’s incarceration rate has tripled since 1980. Approximately 13 million people are introduced to American jails in any given year. Incredibly, more than six million people are under “correctional supervision” in America, meaning that one in fifty Americans are working their way through the prison system, either as inmates, or while on parole or probation. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the majority of those being held in federal prisons are convicted of drug offenses — namely, marijuana. Presently, one out of every 100 Americans is serving time behind bars.

    Little wonder, then, that public prisons are overcrowded. Yet while providing security, housing, food, medical care, etc., for six million Americans is a hardship for cash-strapped states, to profit-hungry corporations such as Corrections Corp of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the leaders in the partnership corrections industry, it’s a $70 billion gold mine. Thus, with an eye toward increasing its bottom line, CCA has floated a proposal to prison officials in 48 states offering to buy and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange, and here’s the kicker, the prisons would have to contain at least 1,000 beds and states would have agree to maintain a 90 percent occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for at least 20 years.

    The problem with this scenario, as Roger Werholtz, former Kansas secretary of corrections, recognizes is that while states may be tempted by the quick infusion of cash, they “would be obligated to maintain these (occupancy) rates and subtle pressure would be applied to make sentencing laws more severe with a clear intent to drive up the population.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has happened. Among the laws aimed at increasing the prison population and growing the profit margins of special interest corporations like CCA are three-strike laws (mandating sentences of 25 years to life for multiple felony convictions) and “truth-in-sentencing” legislation (mandating that those sentenced to prison serve most or all of their time).

  2. The fiscal analysis of the proposed amendment that was conducted by the Ohio Office of Management and Budget indicates that rather than saving money Issue 1 could actually end up costing Ohioans more. Their report is posted online for those who want to read it. If it saved lives but cost a little more I could be ok with it but as someone who works with the addicted population and their families I am certain that it will cause a huge increase in overdose deaths. By removing jail, or the threat of it, until the third charge in 24 months we lose a valuable tool to compel people into treatment. All the money in the world for great treatment does zero good if the offices and clinics sit empty because we can’t get anyone to go. Well intentioned as it is, Issue 1 fails to connect the dots for the delivery of treatment for those who’s brains have been so taken over by the abuse of substance that they are no longer capable of making good decisions for their own health care and treatment. I urge everyone to vote no on this proposed Constitutional amendment.

  3. Forgot to add: here are resources for folks who would like to learn more about this thought-provoking ballot issue.

    Ballotpedia is a thorough, non-partisan source:,Drug_and_Criminal_Justice_Policies_Initiative(2018)

    Dayton Daily News – really took the time to take apart the “hype”. I can’t find anything that says whether they have taken a stance/endorsement one way or another on this issue.–regional-govt–politics/cutting-through-the-hype-what-issue-would-mean-ohio/jZR5dUEUspQuUDWlYLMctN/

  4. You make some excellent points. One that I hadn’t put together was that it would shift burden to local governments (without increased funding, of course). On the flip side, this is also an opportunity: local courts would be able to direct these offenders to treatment programs rather than putting them on a path that only leads to incarceration. Your points about the vagueness re: funding sources/ methods and the difficulty of repeal of an amendment (versus revision of legal code) are also good ones.

    However, you misstated a couple of key items.
    –If a prisoner convicted of multiple felonies makes a successful appeal for for a reduced sentence for one of the reclassified drug offenses, it would not reduce sentences he is serving for any other felony convictions (assault, rape, murder, etc.)
    –The cost savings coming from prison population reduction would be largest in the first year but it would not be a “one-time savings”. The prison population would be permanently reduced, as would the state prison budget.

    To say that Issue 1 normalizes drug use and puts dangerous criminals out on the streets is completely false. Low-level drug offenders are only a harm to themselves. (If they committed other crimes such as robbery or assault in service to an addiction, that’s a separate matter.) Rather than normalizing drug use, it helps reframe it as a health problem – substance use disorder – that deserves treatment that is supportive, not punitive.

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