State Issue 1 will appear on the ballot at the general election on November 6, 2018. State Issue 1 seeks to amend the Ohio Constitution to reclassify certain felony drug offenses to misdemeanor offenses, release serious felons from prison early, and to immediately release certain drug offenders from prison. Alleged costs saved by lower incarceration rates would be used to support drug treatment programs. While providing greater access to drug treatment and rehabilitation is an admirable goal, State Issue 1 is the wrong way to accomplish this goal, and its wide-ranging impact will prove disastrous to Meigs County and the State of Ohio.
If State Issue 1 passes, serious and violent criminals will be eligible to have their sentences reduced by up to 25 percent. Prisoners previously convicted of drug possession charges would be eligible to be immediately released. Courts will be prohibited from sending to prison those who violate the terms of their community control or probation. Possession of deadly drugs will be reclassified from a felony to a misdemeanor. A person convicted of a misdemeanor drug possession offense could only be sentenced to probation with no possibility of jail time for the first two offenses within a 24-month period. Thus, a person convicted of possessing 19 grams of fentanyl, enough to kill nearly 10,000 people, could only be sentenced to probation.
What are the effects if State Issue 1 passes? Law enforcement will have an even harder time getting traffickers and users off the street. Without the threat of incarceration, there will be no incentive for many addicts to enter into rehabilitation. Dangerous drugs, such as heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil, will become more prevalent in Ohio as out-of-state traffickers flood our communities to peddle their poison. Employers will have an even tougher time finding employees who can pass a drug test. Property crimes, such as theft, breaking and entering, and burglary will increase dramatically. The actual savings from reduced incarceration rates will be negligible, and any savings used for drug treatment and rehabilitation programs will be population based, so Meigs County will realize little to no additional funding for such programs. Children will receive the wrong message about the dangerousness of drugs, particularly when underage possession of alcohol will carry a stiffer penalty than possessing heroin, methamphetamine, or fentanyl.
State Issue 1 is bad for Ohio. If passed, since it would be a Constitutional amendment, it would be very difficult if not impossible to undue the damage it does. Additionally, it makes no sense for proponents of State Issue 1 to push for its passage in order to effectively decriminalize drug possession offenses when overdoses and overdose deaths in Ohio are occurring at rates never before seen.
It is imperative that opponents of State Issue 1 reach as many voters as possible and explain what State Issue 1 will really do to Meigs County and to Ohio. Join me in actively opposing State Issue 1.
James K. Stanley is the prosecuting attorney for Meigs County.