Cocaine law change eases Gallia law enforcement concerns

By Dean Wright -

GALLIA COUNTY — With the Ohio House passage of legislation restoring penalties for possession of cocaine and further clarifications for trafficking cocaine penalties established, Gallia County law enforcement may get to relax.

As the Ohio State Supreme Court had ruled in State v. Gonzales that the state had to prove the purity of mixtures which may contain cocaine, law enforcement across the state faced a challenge with how to prosecute cocaine crimes as the state did not have labs capable of determining the “purity” of a mixture suspected to contain cocaine, whereas it had previously measured an entire mixture. The weight of the mixture would determine the level of crime and punishment associated with cocaine offenses.

Gallia County Prosecutor Jason Holdren previously said, “The (Ohio Supreme Court) noted that the statutory language criminalizing possession of cocaine unambiguously requires the state to prove the amount ‘of cocaine’ involved.”

State Representative Ryan Smith lauded efforts Wednesday with the passage of House Bill 4.

“This legislation reaffirms our message to drug dealers that there are consequences for operating in Ohio,” said Smith. “Trafficking dangerous drugs is a serious offense and should be treated as such under Ohio law.”

“I have had cases that we were prepared to spend (several thousand) dollars on to prosecute,” said Holdren. “We had to send evidence to a lab in Michigan to get tested … I’m extremely pleased that the Ohio House has taken swift action to expand the definitions in the law of cocaine trafficking and possession.”

According to Holdren, if a suspect was found mixing cocaine inside of a soda, the entire weight of the mixture could potentially be used to determine a higher level crime as opposed to if the cocaine was found as just a powder. If a powder substance is found to contain alternative substances beyond just cocaine, that substance too would be measured and considered in potential prosecution and punishment.

The measure of an entire mixture had been standard practice among Ohio law enforcement before the Supreme Court Case ruling, with General Assembly legislation approval it will return as standard practice. If that does not happen, county prosecutors and law enforcement are looking at potentially thousands of dollars in lab testing fees per case addressed.

The legislation heads to the Ohio Senate now for approval.

Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.

By Dean Wright