It hardly needs noted that drug and alcohol abuse is one of the main causes of crime in our society today. Our nation has been in the throes of an addiction epidemic and Ohio has been hit especially hard. Here in Licking County, heroin, methamphetamine, and other hard drugs are not just ruining lives but also taking them due to overdoses and impaired driving fatalities.
Issue 1 on the ballot this November proposes to address this problem with mandated treatment and reduced penalties for drug possession. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences it will bring and the means by which it seeks to accomplish its goals will put Ohioans and our community at greater risk than we already are. All seven elected judges of Licking County oppose Issue 1 and encourage voters to reject this proposal.
The amendment would require that all drug possession offenses which are currently fourth and fifth degree felonies be reduced to misdemeanors. It goes further by requiring that the judge place the defendant on probation and prohibits the imposition of jail sanction, unless it is the third offense within a two year period. Further, the amendment would restrict the ability of a judge to send an offender on felony probation if the individual violates his probation. A prison sanction could only be imposed when an offender commits a new criminal offense.
Under current Ohio law, the legislature has made possessing under 20 grams of fentanyl a 5th degree felony. As little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl—an opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin—can kill the average person. Issue 1 would make possession of less than 20 grams a misdemeanor with only probation as a consequence. Theoretically, a person could possess 19 grams of fentanyl which could possibly kill up to 10,000 people and still face no possible jail time.
Issue 1 could also have a detrimental impact on the effectiveness of our drug courts and other specialized dockets. In our county, there is both a felony and misdemeanor drug court as well as a municipal OVI court. These programs effect positive behavioral change through graduated rewards for good behavior and increasing sanctions for bad behavior—including short jail stays. Issue 1 would take the threat of jail away for offenders affected by Issue 1 and undermine the proven model these programs employ.
The most troubling aspect of Issue 1 is that it is an amendment to the state constitution and can only be changed by another constitutional amendment. When the inevitable glitches, gaps, and shortcomings of this law become clear, the General Assembly cannot fix them by simply passing corrective legislation. Instead, it will take the great effort of proposing a new change to the constitution and securing its passage by a statewide majority of voters.
Voters can avoid all of these disastrous consequences by voting no on Issue 1.
Judge Thomas M. Marcelain /s/
Judge W. David Branstool /s/
Judge Robert H. Hoover /s/
Judge Richard P. Wright /s/
Judge Duke Frost /s/
Judge Michael F. Higgins /s/
Judge David N. Stansbury /s/