by J.D. Davidson
A policy group says Ohio’s drug sentencing reform can make an impact on the state’s drug problem and save taxpayers money at the same time.
Robert Alt, president and CEO of The Buckeye Institute and renowned legal scholar, recently testified before the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee in support of a bill, saying it would reform the state’s drug sentencing laws and treat those suffering from addiction by using sensible best practices.
Alt told, 6,238 Ohioans died of drug overdoses in 2019, which is larger than the number of people who have died from COVID-19. Alt also pointed to a 2017 report from the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee as a foundation for reform.
“Senate Bill 3 largely adopts weight thresholds from the Recodification Committee’s final report, which are based upon real life scenarios and impartial university research,” said Alt, who also pointed out the reforms will “help ensure that Ohio treats those caught in the cycle of addiction fairly, while still holding those in the business of selling drugs accountable for their actions.”
Senate President Larry Obhof, a co-sponsor, said the goal of the bill is to get those struggling with addiction help before offenses mean jail time.
“Senate Bill 3 is about being smart on crime and following policies that lead to not only a second chance for Ohioans battling addiction, but also to safer communities across our state,” Obhof said in June, when the Senate passed its version.
Andrew Geisler, a legal fellow at The Buckeye Institute, issued a policy memo in an attempt to separate what he called myth from reality with the proposed bill.
Geisler cited a Journal of the American Medical Association study that said a prison sentence does little to deter future drug use by nonviolent offenders. It also reported the average cost of a prison stay is $22,000.
Geisler also tackled the idea that SB 3 would weaken Ohio’s drug trafficking laws compared to neighboring states, making it a haven for drug dealers. In fact, he said in his paper, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia do not punish the highest level of drug-trafficking offenders with stiff mandatory minimums.
And, according to Geisler, the bill would keep serious mandatory prison sentences for high-level trafficking offenses.
“Evaluating the true effect of the reforms in Senate Bill 3 requires separating fact from fiction and myth from reality,” Geisler said. “The commonsense reforms in Senate Bill 3 do not create the problems and concerns that the myth suggests. And, reclassifying low-level drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors will better ensure that those suffering from addiction get the treatment they need instead of a prison sentence.”
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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.