WAPAKONETA — Auglaize County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Pierce figuratively linked arms with police chiefs and/or representatives of every law enforcement agency in that county Monday morning to take a united stance against state Issue 1.
The fate of the proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution — which supporters claim will help combat the growing opioid epidemic in the Buckeye State — will be decided by voters during the Nov. 6 general election.
Standing in front of a group of county lawmen that included Sheriff Al Solomon and representatives of the St. Marys, Wapakoneta, Minster, New Bremen, New Knoxville and Waynesfield police departments, Pierce called Issue 1 “nonsensical” and said its passage would have disastrous results for Ohioans.
“In 29 days, people will go to the polls, and it is this group’s opinion that a ‘no’ vote should be entered by the citizens of Auglaize County against Issue 1,” he said.
The proposed constitutional amendment would, among other provisions, reduce the criminal charge for the possession of any drug or controlled substance from a low-level felony, as is now the case, to a simple misdemeanor. Non-violent offenders convicted of drug possession would no longer be sent to prison or jail, which supporters of the measure say would free up jail space and save taxpayers a significant amount of money. Those funds, in turn, would be used to expand and enhance substance abuse treatment facilities across the state, according to ballot language for Issue 1.
Only after an individual’s third conviction for the possession of drugs within a 24-month period could judges order defendants to jail or prison.
“Those supporting Issue 1 say it will make Ohio safer, when in fact it will do the exact opposite,” Pierce said. “Issue 1 significantly decreases the potential penalty for persons involved with the possession of any of the drugs. For instance, a person caught with 19 grams of fentanyl — enough to kill 10,000 people — could only be charged with a misdemeanor. This is plainly wrong, inappropriate and ineffective in combating the current drug crisis. While treatment may in many cases be appropriate, making this type of crime a misdemeanor and prohibiting judges from considering incarceration is nonsensical.”
Pierce said there’s no mention in the Issue 1 ballot language that addresses the amount of drugs that would trigger exceptions to the proposed sentencing mandates. “My concern is that someone caught with a truck load of fentanyl could possibly be charged with a misdemeanor, depending on how that language is interpreted,” he said.
Pierce claimed the measure would rob judges of sentencing options, leaving them unable to adequately punish offenders who violate their probation on low-level drug charges, and additionally prevent law enforcement from effectively dealing with significant drug offenders.
“For supporters to say Issue 1 helps those in need is nonsensical,” Pierce said. “The law enforcement agencies here today believe as I do — that Issue 1 is dangerous for Ohio and should be defeated.”
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-0464.