A growing number of legal experts are coming to the same conclusion about Ohio’s “Issue 1” as the man who is running at the top of the Republican ticket in November.
Issue 1 would make bad law, says Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is running for governor.
DeWine may be Ohio’s biggest voice against Issue 1 but he is far from alone in seeing it as a disaster in the making. In a debate last week, he blasted his Democrat opponent, Richard Cordray, for coming out in favor of Issue 1, which would lower the criminal consequences from a felony to a misdemeanor for possession of less than 20 grams of certain illegal drugs, including the powerful opioid fentanyl.
Most newspapers and TV reports about Issue 1 start off by describing it as an attempt to reduce jail time for “low level drug crimes.”
But that is a fallacy DeWine and a growing list of prominent lawyers and judges are hoping Ohioans won’t be snookered by.
DeWine has pointed out that billionaire liberal elites Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros are the primary financial backers of the proposal, and that alone should make Ohioans suspicious.
But among Ohio’s most trusted legal minds, those working on the front lines of the opioid crisis, Issue 1 doesn’t make much sense. Here is what some of them are saying.
Robin Weaver, president of the Ohio State Bar Association, an organization with over 20,000 lawyers and judges among its membership, is speaking out against Issue 1.
If Issue 1 passes, it would result in several changes to the state constitution.
“Among them, reducing certain drug possession crimes to misdemeanors, and prohibiting judges from imposing jail time for a first or second offense in a two-year period,” Weaver notes.
Weaver says this would be a mistake. In a statement released Thursday, he said Issue 1 would strip judges of an important deterrence tool and remove accountability for defendants.
He also said Ohio’s opioid crisis can be better addressed through drug courts and legislation that promotes treatment alternatives to convictions, rather than a rigid constitutional amendment..
Maureen O’Connor, chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, states the following about Issue 1’s inherent deception:
“Issue 1 would mandate that the possession of powdered fentanyl in amounts less than 20 grams as a misdemeanor, and it would forbid judges from imposing jail time. Since the lethal dose of fentanyl is just 2 milligrams (one-thousandth of a gram), 19 grams of fentanyl could kill approximately 10,000 people. This offender, charged with possession of 19 grams of fentanyl, would automatically only get probation. It would be constitutionally dictated that any drug possession conviction that is now a Felony 4 or Felony 5 must be reduced to a misdemeanor. And, the judge MUST then sentence the offender to probation for these offenses under Issue 1.”
John Spon, law director for the city of Mansfield, Ohio, told the Lima News that Issue 1 would be a disaster from a law enforcement and deterrent aspect. “The crux of it is that there are private groups, however well-intentioned, that believe that incarceration and sentencing to prison, criminalizing and high degrees of felonies is not the answer,” said Spon. “There’s a major flaw… It’s a requirement to reduce all existing fourth- and fifth-degree felonies to misdemeanors, and not only reduce them to misdemeanors, but to have mandatory probation so that a municipal judge is prohibited from putting them in jail.”
Spon is so worried about the proposal passing that he is drawing up a resolution for the Mansfield City Council to vote on declaring their opposition to it.
Spon said if Issue 1 passes, he fears it could lead to a proliferation of fentanyl in the state, with fentanyl possession dropping from a felony to a misdemeanor.
“The belief is this would be a clarion call for all drug cartels to flood the State of Ohio with dangerous fentanyl,” he said.
Ken Blackwell, adviser to the Family Research Council, called Ohio’s Issue 1 “A Dangerous and Deadly Proposition.”
Blackwell said liberal billionaires George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg and Nicholas Pritzker are attempting to force their left-leaning ideology on Ohioans.
“This time it’s by spending millions of dollars to weaken Ohio’s drug laws. Soros, Zuckerberg and Pritzker are the lead funders of state Issue 1, a dangerous state constitutional amendment that gives drug dealers a get-out-of-jail-free card.
“They want you to believe their proposal is in line with marijuana reforms in other states. It’s not. They will say it’s in the interest of public safety, and will lead to better treatment options for addicted Ohioans. It won’t.”
Instead, Blackwell said Issue 1 will enshrine weaker laws for possession of illegal drugs in Ohio’s Constitution. According to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, this proposed amendment would allow an individual carrying enough fentanyl to kill 10,000 people to escape felony drug charges. Let me say this again: a drug dealer carrying 19 grams of the deadly drug fentanyl would serve no jail time if Issue 1 is put into the Ohio Constitution.”
Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, senior judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Mahoning County, penned an op-ed in the Youngstown Vindicator urging voters in his community to vote “no” on State Issue 1.
“Not all drug offenders need to go to the penitentiary, but a great number of them do,” Krichbaum writes. “Issue 1 takes away the judge’s discretion in deciding whether or not to incarcerate drug offenders and instead prohibits judges from incarcerating Felony 4 and Felony 5 drug offenders…Our state could easily become a magnet for substance-abuse activity because there will be in effect, very little criminal justice consequence to engaging in such behavior.”
Krichbaum warned that State Issue 1 will have a dramatic negative effect on the administration of justice. Just as we need to order treatment for certain drug offenders when treatment will solve the problem, we need to be able to put people in jail when jail time will solve the problem.”
Current Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said he agrees with the spirit of the Issue 1 initiative but that in practice, it’s a poorly worded law that would result in “too many unintended consequences.”
“There are parts of this thing that are really good,” said Kasich.
But only parts, and for that reason Kasich said he plans to vote against the measure at the polls. Kasich says Issue 1 goes too far and that has a lot to do with fentanyl.