Issue 1 a complex ballot measure aiming to curb drug epidemic; opponents say it max drug laws laxer

Posted at 5:01 PM, Nov 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-06 17:52:25-05

Issue 1 is a complex ballot measure hoping to curb the drug epidemic here in Ohio.

Simply put, the initiative is designed to make sure low-level drug offenders only face misdemeanor charges and are kept in municipal courts, “and only face local jail time at the most and not state prison time,” said Ayesha Bell-Hardaway, assistant professor of law at Case Western Reserve University.

“People think it’s going to affect instances of violence and drug trafficking charges, and this is really focused on the lower-level drug offenses,” said Meghan Novisky, assistant professor of Criminology at Cleveland State University. 

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor said it ties judges’ hands when it comes to punishment.

“It's an epidemic and lessening our laws and making them some of the most lax drug laws in the country is not the path,” O’Connor said.

Proponents of Issue 1 say the money saved from housing prisoners will go toward drug treatment and rehab programs, and while many judges have come out against Issue 1, Cleveland judge Michael Nelson is bucking that trend.

“It gives us the opportunity to use other options other than jail,” Nelson said. “Jail is not a treatment facility.”

One of the most confusing things about Issue 1 is the effect it would or would not have on fentanyl, the dangerous drug used to lace so many others.

Since Issue 1 would reduce penalties and punishment for fourth and fifth-degree felonies that were on the books as of January 1, 2018, fentanyl wasn’t labeled as one of the state’s most dangerous drugs at that time. That means the possession of smaller amounts of fentanyl — less than 20 mg — would be classified as misdemeanors rather than felonies, punishable through probation.

Opponents to Issue 1 say 19 mg of fentanyl is enough to kill 10,000 people. 

An October 28 poll from Baldwin Wallace University found that Issue 1 saw 43 percent support, 40 percent opposition, are 17 percent of people polled unsure about how they’d vote.

If it passes, Issue 1 would also allow prisoners to reduce their sentences by up to 25 percent if they go through rehab, work or educational programs. It would also mean an amendment to the state constitution.

RELATED: Supporters, foes line up on both sides of Issue 1, which would reduce drug possession penalties