At Tuesday’s general election, voters rejected an Ohio constitutional amendment to make possession of all types of drugs misdemeanors in an effort to reduce the state prison population and divert savings to drug treatment.
Most judicial and law enforcement groups opposed the measure known as Issue 1. And it became a point of debate in the Ohio governor’s race, with Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine opposed and Democratic candidate Richard Cordray supporting it.
Supporters argued Issue 1 would have saved tens of millions of dollars in prison costs, money that would be dedicated not only to drug treatment but to crime victim programs, as well.
Opponents balked at the prospect of basically decriminalizing possession of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid blamed for thousands of overdose deaths in Ohio.
In Fayette County, public officials were seemingly unanimous in their opposition to Issue 1.
Fayette County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Beathard and Fayette County Probate/Juvenile Court Judge David Bender joined the chorus of judges stridently opposed to the amendment.
“The proponents of this are basically saying that Ohio is hard on drug addicts, and that the legislature is apparently inept and inefficient, and not able to address what they keep calling an opioid epidemic. And that’s simply not true. We see it every day,” said Beathard. “The proponents are talking about drug courts. Every court in the state of Ohio is a drug court, whether it’s officially certified by the Supreme Court or not, we are all drug courts. In my court, 80 percent of my cases involve drugs or have a drug overlay. It’s four out of five cases.”
Beathard added that for many addicts, prison or the threat of prison is the bottom for them and a motivating factor to change their fortunes.
“You have to have this discretion and available sanctions…you have to have the stick, you can’t have the carrot. This amendment has a lot of carrots. If you’re a drug addict you’re guaranteed rehab. But there’s no sanction if you don’t. The claim is that reduced money from the DRC budget will then come to the local communities to make better facilities and increase treatment options to which no one will go. Why would they have to go? They just don’t. There’s nothing in this amendment as far as treatment that’s not already in place in every court. Every court in the state of Ohio deals with this every day.”