One of the most contentious ballot initiatives to face voters in Ohio in quite some time, Issue 1 seeks to reform how low-level drug offenders are treated by the criminal justice system. The question comes down to this: Do we continue down the path of the 50-plus years failed, so-called “War on Drugs,” or do we begin to come into the modern age of drug treatment and harm reduction, which has worked so well in other parts of the country, as well as in places around the world?

From the website Ballotpedia Issue 1, “is designed to reduce the number of people in state prisons for low-level, nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession and non-criminal probation violations.

“The initiative would make the possession, obtainment, and use of drugs no more than a misdemeanor, with sentences not exceeding probation for a first or second offense. Issue 1 would not change the classification of first, second, or third-degree drug-related felonies, such as the sale, distribution, or trafficking of drugs. The initiative would also allow individuals serving convictions higher than a misdemeanor for possession, obtainment, and use of drugs to petition the court for re-sentencing.

“Courts would be prohibited from ordering that persons on probation for felonies be sent to prison for non-criminal probation violations. The ballot initiative would require the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) to grant an inmate with sentence credits of 0.5 days for each day that the person participated in rehabilitative, work, or educational programs.

“The ballot initiative would require that state funds saved due to a reduction of inmates, resulting from the initiative’s implementation, be spent on substance abuse treatment programs, crime victim programs, probation programs, graduated responses programs, and rehabilitation programs.”

All of this sounds very logical and reasonable, that is, until you hear the histrionics being engaged in from the opposition.

Paul Pfeifer, a retired justice of the Ohio Supreme Court said, “I think it is misguided on the policy itself. This is something for the General Assembly to deal with. Putting anything other than your basic constitutional rights into the constitution just doesn’t belong there.”

And Ken Blackwell, the conservative former treasurer and Secretary of State in Ohio stated, “Unfortunately, Issue 1 is a one-sided proposal that will weaken the tools available to our elected representatives, county prosecutors, and judges to make and enforce laws. It will eliminate important incentives to encourage drug treatment for the addicted, and allow the drug dealers who prey on addiction to freely roam the streets.”

But if you read between the lines what these opponents are really saying is the everyday, ordinary citizens are not equipped to make reasoned decisions about governance; those kinds of complicated things should be left to the pros, those we put into elective office.

The simple fact is that around the country over 150 initiatives have made it to the ballot in state after state, everything from banning taxes on groceries in Oregon, to offering free long-term in-home healthcare to those over 65 in Maine, to allowing felons to vote in Florida, citizens are taking back power from professional politicians that are all too often bought and paid for by lobbyists from various industries.

For that reason alone Issue 1 should pass in Ohio, but also because it will eventually lower prison populations and set the state on the road to treatment over incarceration. How many more years should we continue to fight the failed “War on Drugs”?

[Written by Mansfield Frazier]


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