I wanted to bring the community’s attention to Issue 1, the proposed constitutional amendment on Ohio’s Nov. 6 ballot called “The Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment.”
Issue 1 claims to address the rampant substance abuse disorders that are driving criminal justice spending in Ohio. Issue 1 purports to address this problem by reducing drug possession penalties and directing the savings from reduced incarceration to expanded drug treatment and resources for crime victims. As the Chief Justice of Ohio, Maureen O’Connor wrote, “[a] superficial reading of Issue 1 could lead voters to see it as a thoughtful, compassionate, and reasonable response to a difficult and intractable problem. It seems so, until you peel back its layers and see that it will have catastrophic consequences for our state.”
Issue 1 supporters claim it is a “citizens’ initiative” brought forward by a “vibrant coalition of Ohio Citizens”. In reality the campaign is being funded by a few big money donors who do not live or work in Ohio, including George Soros and Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. Essentially, non-Ohioans are attempting to manipulate Ohio’s laws and will not have to deal with the consequences.
There are four reasons to vote against Issue 1:
1. Issue 1 makes possession of any amount of deadly drugs nothing more than a misdemeanor; It forbids jail time for a defendant’s first two possession offenses, no matter what quantities of drugs are involved. This includes any amount of deadly drugs like fentanyl, heroin and metharnphetamines. Possession of any of those drugs will result in probation — lighter punishment than for other misdemeanor offenses like disorderly conduct and reckless operation.
2. Issue 1 undermines drug treatment: Treatment for addiction is not provided or required by this amendment. Addicts will be on their own in getting sober. Courts connect addicts to treatment and more importantly to funding for treatment. 80% of addicts seeking treatment do so because of potential jail or prison time. Many addicts forego treatment entirely without that threat of jail or prison. Issue 1 will remove the incentive to stop the behavior.
3. Issue 1 reduces sentences for violent offenders: Those convicted of drug trafficking, human trafficking, aggravated robbery, arson, burglary, felonious assault, for example, will be eligible for up to a 25 percent sentence reduction. The statute provides an exception only for rape, murder, and “child molestation.” There is no crime in Ohio called “child molestation.” This could mean that criminals convicted of gross sexual imposition, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, and sexual battery could also get 25 percent slashed off their prison time. This constitutional amendment would enable the release of as many as 10,000 felony offenders from Ohio prisons back into the community. Victims of crime will receive only partial justice and society will pay the cost of letting violent criminals out of prison early.
4. Issue 1 is an unfunded mandate: It shifts costs to local government. Proponents speculate that savings from letting violent offenders and drug offenders out of prison will result in millions of dollars for treatment. However, speculation about savings is not the same as dedicated funding. Local governments have experienced the promise of funding in the past that never materialized and have paid the price. Making drug possession cases misdemeanors will dump a huge load of cases on local municipal and county courts without any extra funding — leaving local taxpayers with the bill.
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, the Ohio State Bar Association Board of Governors, and the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association all oppose this amendment. This amendment will endanger our families and children by flooding our streets with drugs at a time when opioid deaths in Ohio are exceeding the death toll from the Vietnam War.
I urge you to visit the website www.votenoprotectohio.com to learn more. Don’t be fooled by the name of the proposed amendment passage of this issue will not result in safe neighborhoods or drug rehabilitation. Please vote NO on Issue 1.
Eva J. Yarger is the Van Wert County Prosecuting Attorney. She wrote this with assistance from John Hatcher, Van Wert City Law Director, and Mark Spieles, the CEO of Westwood Behavioral Health Center, Inc.