Home Election 2018 Ohio voters consider dropping felony drug charges in favor of rehab

Ohio voters consider dropping felony drug charges in favor of rehab

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Issue 1 is a contentious Ohio ballot initiative that has big-name proponents and opponents, from elected officials to college political groups 

Ohio voters will have the opportunity in the November midterm election to vote on Issue 1, an initiative that has caused controversy at both the local and state levels.

The ballot initiative, also known as the Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment, is a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution concerning drug-related crimes and criminal sentencing. If passed, Issue 1 would demote drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors, shorten prison sentences for some criminals convictions, and reallocate money to various rehabilitation programs.

Both incumbent Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) and gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) oppose Issue 1, while gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray (D-Ohio) pledged his support for the initiative.

The Ohio University College Democrats has taken a strong stance in favor of Issue 1. The organization voted to endorse the initiative at a recent weekly meeting; the organization hasn’t endorsed a ballot initiative in the past, President Bailey Williams said. The endorsement passed with more than a 50 percent majority of the club’s present body.

Williams participated in Ohio’s early voting, where he voted “YES” on issue 1.

“Since (Issue 1 is) only for possession charges and not trafficking or anything like that, I was really comfortable voting for it,” Williams said. “Just the fact that it’s shifting toward treatment was a step in the right direction in my mind.”

On the contrary, the College Republicans chose not to take an official stance on Issue 1. Cole Neuhart, political director of the College Republicans, is opposed to the issue’s ballot language and the amendments permission of certain substances like fentanyl, although he supports the measure in principle.

“I’d love to be all for it,” Neuhart said. “I think it’s a great starting point; I just think it needs amended.”

Rick Hodges, director of the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health, is concerned with Issue 1.

“I understand why the proponents of it are trying to promote for a more compassionate system when it comes to folks with substance abuse problems,” Hodges said. “But, I think this cuts out the law enforcement community and the judges who are working very hard to be part of the solution.”

Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith said he is opposed to Issue 1 because of its potential implications for local law enforcement. He is partially concerned that no surrounding states have laws in place similar to what Issue 1 would implement in Ohio.

“It will be a safe haven for drug dealers and drug users if this law passes,” Smith said.

Smith emphasized that the sheriff’s department wants to help people who are struggling with drug addiction, and that there are certain measures in place to ensure they get help. He is concerned for law-abiding community members who feel unsafe due to others abusing drugs.

“Let’s think about the 94 percent of the population that does play by the rules and wants to be safe in their neighborhoods,” Smith said. “We don’t want to hurt anybody or harm anyone but we also gotta think about the citizens out there that tell me, ‘I’m afraid to sit on my porch, I’m afraid to walk my children down the road.’ Let’s think about them for a little while.”

Issue 1’s fate ultimately lies in the hands of Ohio voters, who will hit the polls soon to make their voices heard.

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