CANTON, Ohio — There is growing debate over a proposed Ohio law that would reform various drug offenses. Some say Senate Bill 3 is a positive pathway for those struggling with addiction, but others believe it will benefit drug dealers.
"It should not be a crime in Ohio to be a drug addict or to be a drug user," said Ohio Senator John Eklund, who is the primary sponsor of SB 3. "The criminal justice system has a role to play in helping people who fall on hard times."
The bill would reclassify most low-level drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It would also establish a presumption for treatment instead of incarceration.
Eklund said SB 3 would remove the scarlet letter or stigma for those who succumb to the allure of drugs, help them recover and find employment.
"So long as the offender agrees to comply with an ordered treatment plan custom-made by the judge with the help of professionals," he said.
However, some judges and law enforcement officers have major concerns about SB 3.
Inspector William Jones from the Stark County Sheriff's Office said it could actually help drug traffickers.
"I think it benefits the drug traffickers. I think it hurts law enforcement. It'll be a daily battle for law enforcement and I don't think it necessarily helps individuals who need treatment," Jones said.
Jones used bags of baking powder and Epsom salt to illustrate his points. The powder represented heroin and the salt represented methamphetamine.
He displayed smaller bags that could each yield 50 doses of heroin or meth. Under current law, someone caught with that amount would face a felony. However, under SB 3, Jones said that would become a misdemeanor with a presumption of treatment.
"Our argument is this is not a possession of heroin amount. This would be a trafficking amount," Jones said.
"People that need treatment that we're trying to help aren't carrying that amount," Jones said. "People who are heroin users don't buy heroin, use a little bit and put it in their pocket."
Jones stressed he supports the treatment side of SB 3 and added Stark County has a quick response team to get help for those addicted to drugs.
But he also pointed out that possessing heroin or meth — laced with dangerous fentanyl or carfentanil — could become misdemeanors, giving a potential get-out-of-jail-free card for dealers.
"We have multiple people overdosing on extremely small amounts of methamphetamine," Jones said.
With Ohio squarely in the middle of the opioid epidemic, the debate over the bill will surely rage on. It could be voted out of the Ohio Senate by Christmas and sent to the House of Representatives next month.
Eklund said there have already been 12 amendments to the original bill with about 10 more suggested. He plans to keep fighting for it.
"Help those people get better. Help them find redemption," he said.