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What is Ohio’s Issue 1 This Election?

Midterms are coming.

Incumbents are looking to survive anti-establishment candidates. The “loony left” is descending into liberal madness and the right is browbeating their righteous chests with moral ambiguity (“I religion harder than you!”) — In case the previous sentence didn’t prove, I can’t stand the left/right… it turns good folks into mindless parrots and one-dimensional trolls. Anyway, prepare yourself for ridiculous ads — wouldn’t it be amazing if laws were passed preventing attack ads? Candidates would actually have to articulate a position, rather than spend 90% of their ads slamming their opponents

On a federal level, Democrats are orchestrating a blue wave to re-take the House in the hopes of becoming President Donald Trump’s foil. Many on the left are thinking impeachment, according to the right. Knowing that his replacement is Mike Pence, impeachment might lead to deep-seated conservatism. Democrats, on the other hand, are failing to offer an alternative message; being against something isn’t a message and it’s just replicating the same philosophy Republicans used during President Obama’s terms. Being against something is easier than being for something. 

While folks are sharpening their graphite pencils to elect candidates from within their own party, there are measures on the ballot that need to be fleshed out. First, a critical disclaimer: It’s important to research if you’re going to vote — it’s best to know what you’re voting on and become familiar with the language. We’ve run through the gantlet of Ohio’s issues in previous cycles, so what’s on this cycle’s ballot? 

Issue One: the Drug and Criminal Justice Policies Initiative, also known as the “Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation”. Basically, this issue would “lower the penalties for drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors in an effort to keep low-level offenders out of prison.”

The Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation amendment, backed by a bipartisan coalition of community, law enforcement and business leaders, would require all fourth- and fifth-degree felony offenses for obtaining, possessing or using drugs or drug paraphernalia to be reclassified as no worse than first-degree misdemeanors. The maximum punishment would be 180 days in jail and $1,000 fine, though first and second offenses within a two-year period could only be punished with probation, not jail time.

This measure was placed on November’s ballot after the Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities Campaignsubmitted 730,031 signatures Wednesday; 305,591 valid signatures of Ohio registered voters are needed to qualify for the ballot.” 

This is a constitutional amendment designed to add a new section 12 to Article XV of the Ohio Constitution

Ballotpedia offers a simpler breakdown.

So: Non-violent drug possession offenses would reduce sentencing; money saved from a reduction of inmates would be redistributed to substance rehabilitation programs, and prevent courts from sending “non-criminal probation violations” back to prison. 

Predictably, this is highly partisan. 

Cecil Thomas, a Democratic Senator in the Ohio Senate supports the measure

Since 1974, there has been no significant change in Ohio’s crime rate. Simultaneously, Ohio’s state prisons today hold 49,500, or six times as many inmates as 44 years ago. At that time, there were only 290 women behind bars, compared with over 4,000 today. 

Many of the prisoners who make up our bloated inmate population are non-violent offenders who do not need to be taken out of society in order to be reformed. In fact, more prisoners – 2,738, or 14.7 percent – were committed for drug possession last year than for any other offense. Not only is this a waste of time for imprisoned individuals, it is a waste of money and resources to care for inmates who do not pose a threat to the public.

Maureen O’Connor, Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, a conservative jurist, argues against it.

Ohio may end up with some of the most lenient drug crime laws in the nation if this proposed constitutional amendment passes. Our state could easily become a magnet for substance abuse activity because there will be, in effect, very little criminal justice consequence to engaging in such behavior.

Let me put the issue into context by explaining Issue 1’s consequences as it relates to possession of fentanyl, a lethal opioid. According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), drug overdose deaths in Ohio reached 4,050 in 2016. Fifty-eight percent of the overdose deaths in Ohio in 2016 involved fentanyl compared with only 4 percent in 2013.

This issue has surfaced as a debate point between Mike Dewine, the republican candidate to replace John Kasich, and his democratic candidate, Richard Cordray. 

Dewine (via the Cleveland Plain-Dealer): “If in every other state it is a felony, and if every other state takes it seriously that surrounds us, and we’re the only state where it’s a misdemeanor with no penalty at all, where do you think the drug dealers are going to come?”

Cordray (via the Cleveland Plain-Dealer): “We need to have more effort for treatment in the community, and less emphasis on jailing drug users, people with a drug problem in our prisons. (Jail is) the most expensive place to put them, it’s the least humane place we can put them, it’s the least productive place to put them.”

Ads will surface over the next month supporting or criticizing the amendment. Ignore it. Ignore all ads offer an opinion on candidates or measures. They are backed by money and offer misleading claims. 

Instead, research it. Become an informed voter. And vote your conscience, not your party.

 

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