If passed, Issue 1 will significantly change drug laws and sentencing options in Ohio. It would mandate that fourth and fifth degree felony offenses of obtaining, possessing or using a significant amount of drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil methamphetamine, cocaine and LSD be classified as misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24 month period.
It would prohibit our elected judges from sending offenders to prison if they violate probationary rules and would cut prison time for criminals who participate in programs.
While well intended, there are so many problems with Issue 1 that it is difficult to list them all.
First, it changes Ohio drug laws so that possession of large amounts of poisonous and deadly drugs are equivalent to automobile traffic offenses, with no threat of jail.
Second, it removes a judge’s discretion to order prison time for offenders who violate the rules of probation. If a judge orders an individual into drug treatment, the judge cannot enforce it. If an individual chooses to never go to treatment and to continue to use there will be no consequence.
Third, the amendment shortens prison sentences up to 25% except for murder, rape, and child molestation. Crimes eligible for early release include manslaughter, armed robbery, arson, burglary, kidnapping, felonious assault, vehicular homicide and endangering children. And, due to poor drafting, there is no definition of “child molestation.” In fact, there is no Ohio crime entitled “child molestation.” As a prosecutor this is troubling.
Fourth, this proposed constitutional amendment is primarily funded by a few rich people in California and Washington D.C. including Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros. Millions of dollars from out of state are being spent to change the Ohio Constitution, money from people who think they know better how to run Ohio than Ohioans.
Fifth, if passed, Issue 1 will be a huge financial burden on our municipal courts. The courts in Fairborn and Xenia will be inundated with new misdemeanor drug prosecutions and no additional resources to handle the case load.
Sixth, the proponents of Issue 1 touted its potential to save the State money. However, a fiscal analysis by the Office of Budget and Management reports that Issue 1 could result in additional costs into the “tens of millions.”
Finally, as a constitutional amendment, Issue 1 cannot be changed or tweaked by any means other than another statewide ballot issue. Any problems or unintended consequences with the 1,900 word amendment can only be addressed by another constitutional amendment, a slow and costly process. The idea of treatment instead of incarceration has merit and deserves thoughtful debate but the remedy must come through legislation, not by amending the State constitution.
Opponents to Issue 1 include the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court, the Ohio Victim Witness Association, the Buckeye Sheriffs Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Greene County Sheriff, the Judges in Greene County and your County Prosecutor.
As a community, we should always strive to do more to help those in need, but Issue 1 is not the way. It undermines the courts. It removes incentives for addicts to complete treatment. It puts our community at unnecessary risk. As your prosecutor, I’m telling you that Issue 1 is scary and absolutely wrong.
Stephen K. Haller is the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney and guest columnist.