Ohio Issue 1: Drug and Criminal Justice Policies Initiative (2018)



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On the ballot in Ohio this November is the controversial Issue 1. Ohio Issue 1 is the Drug and Criminal Justice Policies Initiative which, according to the text on the ballot, is intended “to reduce penalties for crimes of obtaining, possessing, and using illegal drugs.”

The language on the ballot itself reads:

  • 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 for 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.

It’s important to understand that the above text is what is printed on the ballot; it is not the amendment itself. The amendment text is nearly 2,000 words long. Both the above ballot text and the amendment text score absurdly high on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test - between grade 18 and 19.

Fun fact about Flesch-Kincaid readability tests - they do not measure how intelligently written text is, but rather how long sentences are and how many syllables words are. Longer sentences and bigger words mean a higher score, shorter sentences and shorter words mean a lower score.

The idea behind this ballot measure it twofold: save Ohio money by reducing the jail population, and help non-violent drug users. Opponents of Issue 1 fear that, if passed, not only will drug use increase but so will the drug supply - they say that Issue 1 sends a “message to drug traffickers is that doing business in Ohio is low risk.”

And that may be true - Issue 1 may lower the risk of selling illegal drugs in Ohio mearly by the fact users will not be able to be coerced into revealing the identity of their dealers. However, trafficking drugs would remain as illegal as before - and trafficking includes dealing (i.e. selling) drugs.

Opponents also argue that “Treatment for addiction is not provided or required by this amendment.” While it is true that specific programs are not outlined by the amendment, section 2 outlines that such programs are to be funded:

(2)(a) To support substance abuse treatment programs, crime victim programs, and other purposes consistent with this Section, such as adult and juvenile probation department programs, graduated responses programs, and rehabilitation programs for people in the justice system, the general assembly shall include in the State biennial budget appropriations of funds from the savings to the State achieved as a result of the implementation of this Section. The funds disbursed pursuant to this Section are intended to supplement, not supplant, funding obligations of the state and local governments.

(b) Seventy percent of the funds to be disbursed under this Section shall be disbursed to the state department of mental health and addiction services, or its successor, for a grant program funding substance abuse treatment programs, services, and supports throughout Ohio. The state department of mental health and addiction services, or its successor, shall award the grants pursuant to an application program with an emphasis on the demonstrated need of the population to be served by the applicant, the applicant’s proposed use for the funds, and the applicant’s demonstrated ability to achieve successful results with effective programs. The state department of mental health and addiction services, or its successor, shall conduct a biennial evaluation of the efficiency and effectiveness of the substance abuse treatment programs and services funded under this Section.

(c) Thirty percent of the funds to be disbursed under this Section shall be disbursed for purposes that are consistent with the intent of this Section, such as crime victim programs, adult and juvenile probation department programs, graduated responses programs, and rehabilitation programs for people in the justice system. To reduce further victimization of underserved victims of violent crime, at least half of such funds shall be disbursed to the attorney general for a grant program funding victim trauma recovery services. The attorney general shall conduct a biennial evaluation of the efficiency and effectiveness of the trauma recovery services for crime victims funded under this Section.

(d) The general assembly may adjust the ratio of funds to be disbursed pursuant to this division for substance abuse treatment programs, services, and supports and for other purposes consistent with this Section after the first three biennial appropriations and every three biennial appropriations thereafter. Under any adjusted ratio of funds by the general assembly, no less than fifty percent of the total funds shall be disbursed for substance abuse treatment programs, services and supports, and no less than ten percent for crime victim trauma recovery services.

(e) The funds disbursed under this division may be used by the recipients without regard to the fiscal year for which the funds were appropriated or disbursed.

As far as the required part of that argument, there is no current requirement that anyone get treatment.

Opponents also argue that Issue 1 means that “An addict is on his own in getting sober.” implying that it would not be legal to help an addict, or that only the Ohio government has the capability to help addicts. Another argument that “many addicts forego treatment entirely without the threat of prison” implies that some addicts don’t need the threat of prison to get treatment, refuting that addicts are always on their own as implied.

Another argument against is that Issue 1 “dooms effective treatment efforts in courts across Ohio.” Keep in mind I’m no expert - but I feel courtrooms would not be an effective location in treating medical conditions - such as addiction - as medical centers. The wording is ominous - especially with the word “dooms” - but medical professionals should make medical decisions, not judges.

Continuing with the opponent’s arguments: “Issue 1 places the rehabilitation and well-being of those who break the law ahead of the rehabilitation and well-being of innocent victims.” The odd thing about this argument is that the addict is both the law-breaker and the victim. This argument attempts to split one person into two.

I’m probably going to vote “yes” on this. While I don’t like the wordiness of either the actual amendment text or ballot text, I do like reducing the punishment of drug victims - who are the addicts themselves.

How about you? Yay or nay? No need to be from Ohio to have an opinion!

Sources:

  • https://ballotpedia.org/Ohio_Issue_1,Drug_and_Criminal_Justice_Policies_Initiative(2018)
  • https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/getattachment/f03dd0d1-6498-4e96-a80c-8908a899989b/The-Neighborhood-Safety-Drug-Treatment-and-Rehab.aspx

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