The President of the Ohio State Bar Association, an organization with over 20,000 lawyers and judges among its membership, is speaking out against Issue 1, the statewide November ballot measure aimed at reducing penalties for low-level drug crimes.
If Issue 1 passes, it would result in several changes to the state constitution. Among them, reducing certain drug possession crimes to misdemeanors, and prohibiting judges from imposing jail time for a first or second offense in a two year period.
Robin Weaver, who heads up the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA), says this would be a mistake. In a statement Thursday, he said Issue 1 would strip judges of an important deterrence tool and remove accountability for defendants.
He also said Ohio's opioid crisis can be better addressed through drug courts and legislation that promotes treatment alternatives to convictions.
“Our time would be better spent working together through the legislative process to expand and promote the use of drug courts and treatment in lieu of conviction,” he said.
Supporters of Issue 1 say it would reduce the number of incarcerated people and save taxpayer money that would then be required to fund drug treatment programs.
A report from the Office of the Ohio Secretary of State on the ballot measure contains a summary of the arguments for and against Issue 1.
According to the official ballot language, passage of the Issue 1 amendment would:
- Require sentence reductions of incarcerated individuals, except individuals incarcerated for murder, rape, or child molestation, by up to 25 percent 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.