The old axiom, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” could be rephrased as saying, “Don’t Judge a Ballot Issue by Its Title” as it applies to Issue 1 that is on the ballot this fall in Ohio.
Issue 1, also known as “The Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment” has a great sounding title. Who does not want neighborhood safety? The Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, the Ohio Sentencing Commission, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, numerous judges across Ohio and here in Fayette County, have come out in opposition to this particular issue that allegedly proposes neighborhood safety.
Are all of these people opposed to neighborhood safety? Do we want unsafe communities? I hope that those of you reading this would and do believe that that the people you have elected to these positions, especially those charged with your safety and security, want nothing more than safe neighborhoods and communities.
In actuality, there is nothing about Issue 1 that makes our community a safer place to live. Issue 1 reduces the levels of offenses for possession of significant amounts of drugs, hard drugs, like fentanyl, methamphetamine and heroin, just to name a few. However, Issue 1 does not make these drugs legal or free, it just reduces the penalties for them, and makes the enforcement of such laws nearly impossible. What no one is talking about with respect to Issue 1 is that addicts will still want drugs, and addicts will still have to pay for those drugs. Thus, addicts will still use whatever means necessary to obtain drugs. Issue 1 does not provide funds for addicts to obtain drugs.
Nothing about Issue 1 is going to make the drugs that are used and trafficked in our community cost less. Removing the penalties for jail will embolden users and traffickers. Thus, the need for addicts to obtain money for drugs is not going anywhere. The thefts from family, the stolen jewelry, the stolen guns, the forgeries, the burglaries, the robberies, the busted car windows, and the other crimes that people commit to get money for drugs will not be reduced. If anything, the cost to us as a society will go up. Nothing about that make our neighborhoods safer.
Issue 1 proposes treatment and rehabilitation for addicts instead of incarceration. Presently in Fayette County, a first time offender caught with possession of a drug will receive what is known as Intervention in Lieu of Conviction (ILC) through the court system. That is a one-time opportunity for those offenders to go to treatment and stay clean. If they do, the drug charge goes away completely, and is not on their record. The facts are though, if the addict does not comply with the terms of ILC, they will receive a conviction, and likely forced treatment. It is very hard for a first time offender on a drug charge to be locked up for a significant period of time and/or go to prison in the current climate. Issue 1 does not help with that, because it takes away the ability for the judge that is overseeing the case to impose consequences if the person does not comply.
Issue 1 also reduces prison sentences for burglars, robbers and thieves. It limits the ability of probation officers to do their jobs. Presently, if someone is on probation for theft, and they do not pay back their victim, or they do not check in with their probation officer, that is a probation violation. For that violation, the person’s probation can be revoked and they can have real consequences like going to prison. Issue 1 disallows that entirely. It is already hard enough to get restitution for innocent victims. It is already hard enough to get probationers to check in with their officers. Removing this tool from the judicial toolbox of compliance will only make that more difficult. Issue 1 is bad for victims of crime.
Perhaps you believe that drug laws need to be changed. Perhaps you believe that certain things about Issue 1 sound good. If you have that opinion, then I am asking you to still vote no, but let your voice be heard through the legislative process. If we change our constitution on these issues, it is extremely difficult to change even slightly. Fixes to our drug laws need to be done through legislation, not at the ballot. There is a reason that there is extreme bi-partisan opposition to this issue. I have not heard of a single prosecutor, Republican or Democrat, that is in favor of Issue 1. Most criminal defense attorneys that I speak to are opposed to the issue. The reason for that is that those of us that work in the system everyday know that this issue is bad for us as Ohioans. The system can and should be made better, but Issue 1 is not the way to do it.
I also hope that you have noticed that I have emphasized that this effects our community. I live here with my family. All of those county and state level officials that oppose Issue 1 live here in Ohio. There are a number of celebrities and people from out of our area that are championing Issue 1. If that is their prerogative, so be it, but they won’t have to live with the fallout – good or bad. If the people of Ohio really want to change the drug laws, let’s sit down and have a serious conversation about that with those that live, breathe and work in our communities. It is not propaganda that Issue 1 is bad for Ohio, it simply is bad for Ohio. Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions regarding Issue 1.
Jess C. Weade has served as the Prosecuting Attorney for Fayette County, Ohio since 2011 and sits on the Executive and Legislative Committee of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association.