AP NEWS

Ohio lawmakers keep toughening drug penalties, Issue 1 supporter says

October 8, 2018

Ohio lawmakers keep toughening drug penalties, Issue 1 supporter says

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Issue 1′s supporters chose to push their drug crime proposal through a constitutional amendment because they believe the Ohio General Assembly would repeal the measure if it was in the form of a statute.

That’s according to Stephen JohnsonGrove of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, who spoke on behalf of supporters of the proposal during a conversation Monday at the City Club of Cleveland. Speaking against Issue 1 was Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Drug Court Judge David Matia.

Issue 1 would reclassify as a misdemeanor drug possession and use for a number of drugs, including heroin, fentanyl and cocaine. Offenders wouldn’t go to jail until the third offense in 24 months. People who are incarcerated if Issue 1 goes into effect could petition the court for their crimes to be reclassified and could potentially be released.

JohnsonGrove said the Ohio General Assembly has failed to meaningfully reduce the state’s prison population and invest in treatment at a time when opioid addiction is soaring.

“They only go one direction,” he said of the laws passed. “They have no appetite in reducing the flood of people going into the system.”

Matia, however, cautioned against adopting the plan in the Ohio Constitution.

“It sets in concrete these changes,” he said.

Matia has run his drug court for 10 years. About 1,100 people have been though his program, which generally encourages criminal defendants to enter rehab with the threat of jail if they do not.

A judge’s discretion would evaporate if Issue 1 became law, he said.

If people are sentenced to probation for their first two drug use crimes in 24 months, there is nothing a judge can do to make them get a GED or to stop using if they test positive each week, aside from “endless probation violation hearings,” Matia said.

The amendment would allow judges to make a plan of graduated sanctions when probation is violated. It would have to be first approved by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and couldn’t involve incarceration, unless a new non-drug crime is committed.

“People will die if issue 1 passes,” Matia said, adding that many people get drug treatment in prison.

However, JohnsonGrove said many Ohio communities – including in areas most affected by the opioid scourge – lack drug courts. Many judges throw people in prison for non-criminal probation violations.

“It’s a failure of imagination, honestly, to think accountability always has to look like a set of bars. It doesn’t, ” he said. “There’s other ways to improve behavior.”

AP RADIO
Update hourly