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The 411 on Issue 1

Amidst all the campaigning, advertising and endorsing of candidates and as well as an overwhelming push to vote, it’s easy to forget another important part of voting: the actual issues themselves. For those who have never voted, not only do you vote for your governor, your senator and even your county’s coroner, you also vote on issues pertaining to your county, like passing a new levy to fund anything from the fire department to the schools, and your state. For the upcoming election in Ohio the one statewide issue on the ballot this year is Issue One, and it surrounds Ohio’s statewide epidemic of drug use and a new way of fighting it. As an Ohioan, I know the devastating effects of drug use and the effects on the lives of those who are battling drug addictions, but another, often looked, issue surrounding drug use is prison sentences. According to The Columbus Dispatch, in 1974, Ohio’s prisons only housed 8,300 inmates, and today, they house 49,500. In fact, according to Cleveland.com and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Ohio’s prisons are overflowing because they are intended to only house 38,579 inmates.

There is a growing debate in this country and state that prosecuting and incarcerating people for possessing drugs does not help the drug epidemic or rehabilitation efforts, but rather disproportionately affects minorities and the poor and cements the United States’ role as the nation with the highest incarceration rate. This rate, according to Vox, is 655 per 100,000 people which is about six times that of our neighbor to the North. Issue One seeks to attack this issue by the angle of defelonization.

Issue One is a constitutional amendment that would:

  • Require sentence reductions of incarcerated individuals, except individuals incarcerated for murder, rape or child molestation, by up to 25% if the individual participates in rehabilitative, work, or educational programming.

  • Mandate that criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing or using any drug such as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, and other controlled substances cannot be classified as a felony, but only a misdemeanor.

  • Prohibit jail time as a sentence of obtaining, possessing or using such drugs until an individual’s third offense within 24 months.

  • Allow an individual convicted of obtaining, possessing, or using any such drug prior to the effective date of the amendment to ask a court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor, regardless of whether the individual has completed the sentence.

  • Require any available funding, based on projected savings, to be applied to state-administered rehabilitation programs and crime victim funds.

  • Require a graduated series of responses, such as community, service, drug treatment, or jail time, for minor, non-criminal probation violations.

This would, according to the Dayton Daily News, defelonize felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession and drug use charges (the lesser of the five categories of felonies), stop judges from sending people to prison for probations violations outside of committing a crime and save money for the state of Ohio which currently spends millions on its Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Issue One has received $4.5 million of the $4.8 million from out of state sources including the Chan-Zuckerberg institute (Yes, that Zuckerberg) and the American Civil Liberties Union, according to Ballotpedia.org. While monetarily, Issue One may be supported from those outside the state, many Ohio organizations also support it including the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, recently retired director of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitations and Corrections, Gary Mohr, and many faith-based organizations. Even musician John Legend, born in Springfield, Ohio supports this legislation.  A recent survey from Baldwin Wallace University stated that 47.9% of Ohioans support this amendment while 30.% are against. These statistics are reflective of the controversy surrounding Issue One.

While this is certainly not a partisan issue, the Republican party and Republican candidate for governor, Mike DeWine, opposes Issue One while the Democratic party and Democratic candidate for governor, Richard Cordray supports this issue. DeWine stated that Issue One would “undermine drug courts” and “would give Mexican cartels a ‘road map straight into our neighborhoods,’” while Cordray countered in a recent debate “that taking advice from DeWine on the crisis would be akin to ‘asking for navigation advice from the captain of the Titanic.’” DeWine is certainly not alone in his criticism. The Akron Beacon Journal wrote an editorial piece dissenting on Issue One because “there are better ways to expand drug treatment and reduce the prison population.” Many prominent judges in Ohio as well as police, judicial and attorney based organizations in Ohio are opposing Issue One because they believe it will hurt the drug courts, disincentivize rehabilitation services and in the words of the Louis Tobin, executive director of The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, “It sends the wrong message to youth about the seriousness of drugs like heroin, meth, and LSD. It tells drug traffickers that Ohio is open for business.”

This is not to say that there is no hard evidence supporting Issue One. In fact, Ohio would be in good company if it defelonized drug possession and use, standing alongside, California, Utah, Connecticut and Alaska. While California and Ohio are certainly not the same, Proposition 47, California’s Issue One, resulted in savings of $68 million in the first year and there was no link between crime and this proposition, according to Vox. Research from the Urban Institute concluded that “Reclassifying drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor can reduce the negative impacts imposed on people and communities by felony convictions.” Supporters also cite that the money saved from Issue One would support rehabilitation treatment negating the argument, in their eyes, that the passage of Issue One would hurt rehabilitation efforts in Ohio.

Throughout the differing viewpoints, it is clear that Ohioans agree on one thing: people addicted to drugs need help. How they will receive that help will be determined on November 6th.

Do you have any opinion on this issue? Then get out and vote! In the words of Michelle Obama “Our vote matters. It always does. But only if we use that vote.”

Emily Janikowski, otherwise known as Em, can be found usually lurking in the depths of the Polsky building as a writing tutor, and when she isn't there, she is curled up in bed binge watching Law & Order SVU. Her passion lies in changing the world, and she hopes to accomplish this through majoring in social work.
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