Perhaps the most controversial ballot proposal to hit Ohio in years, Issue 1 stirs passions on both sides.
If passed by voters on Nov. 6, Issue 1 would amend Ohio’s Constitution to downgrade most drug possession charges to misdemeanors. It doesn’t matter what type of drug, even the deadly fentanyl, would be a misdemeanor for a person caught with up to 19 grams in their possession.
On one side, in support of the measure, is a coalition of liberal Democrat lawmakers and college professors, billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros, and Richard Cordray, the Democrat candidate for governor.
On the other side are most of the law enforcement community. That includes sheriffs and local prosecutors, judges and the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.
One local prosecutor called the idea behind Issue 1 “insane.”
“The idea that we are just going to allow him to possess 18 grams of fentanyl on his car seat, and kill this whole room, is insane,” said Trecia Kimes-Brown, prosecuting attorney in Vinton County, at a press conference Friday.
With Election Day just a month away, Ohio voters will have to decide who they believe – the sheriffs, prosecutors and judges, or liberal college professors, Richard Cordray and a handful of the most far-left Democrat state legislators.
If passed, Issue 1 would not only reduce drug possession charges to misdemeanors. It would also eliminate the possibility of prison time for those offenses. Ohio would become a national hub for drug dealers, who would know they could escape jail time as long as they kept less than 20 grams of powerful drugs in their possession.
Backers of the amendment say the money saved from fewer inmates would go to rehab programs.
But law enforcement officials say voting “yes” will lead to more crime in communities. More robberies, more burglaries, more break-ins of houses and cars.
Law enforcement officials in Meigs, Gallia, Jackson, Vinton and Washington counties joined prosecutors plus at least one county commissioner and judge at a press conference Friday to urge Ohioans to vote no, WSAZ reported Friday.
“Ohio will become a hot spot for drug traffickers from other neighboring states to come into Ohio to engage in the trafficking of their drugs,” Meigs County Prosecutor James Stanley said.
Because the charges for selling drugs won’t change, the consequences for being caught with drugs would be minimal, Stanley said.
“The thing that is most concerning is that up to 20 grams of fentanyl, enough to kill a complete community [of 10,000 people], will now be a misdemeanor,” Gallia County Prosecutor Jason Holdren said.
Law enforcement officials say if the charges are misdemeanors, there’s no way for courts to make addicts go to rehab. That’s because the incentive used to get them into rehab is almost always the prospect of jail time.
But supporters like Ohio University health-policy professor Daniel Skinner told WSAZ the money saved by keeping addicts out of prison would be used to get them the treatment they need.
That’s assuming every drug addict wants help for his addiction.
Skinner says Issue One would look at the drug crisis as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement issue.
Skinner says what’s currently being done isn’t working and that a constitutional amendment, like Issue One, is needed.
“We really need to force ourselves to think in new ways. Unless we have something like a constitutional amendment, we’re going to fault to our old ways of thinking,” the professor told WSAZ.
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.