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.