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Published: Monday, 11/11/2002

Issue 1 didn't fool voters

Ohio voters could not have been much more emphatic in their rejection of Issue 1, the only statewide issue on the ballot. Issue 1, which would have required judges to send nonviolent first- and second-time drug offenders to treatment instead of jail, was rejected overwhelmingly.

Clearly, the electorate sorted through the smoke and mirrors and realized that judges can already sentence nonviolent drug users to treatment, and that many judges do so rather than incarcerate individuals in their first scrape with the law.

While the results from Tuesday's election are not yet official, there's no question that with 1,952,650, or 67.2 percent, voting against Issue 1, and 954,060, or 32.8 percent voting for it, Ohioans wanted no part of the measure.

Moreover, the issue lost in all 88 Ohio counties, an unmistakable indication of the public's distrust of it.

Backers of the constitutional amendment found out that no amount of money - three of America's wealthiest men dumped millions of dollars into the campaign - could convince Ohio voters to favor the measure.

Rumors that it could open the door to legalizing marijuana helped pad the margin of defeat, we suspect, even though marijuana enforcement isn't a priority for police and even though supporters insisted that the drug has effectively been “decriminalized” for years.

Issue 1 backers wrongly expected public sympathy for drug offenders who find themselves in front of a judge for a first- or second drug-use offense. The measure was not only opposed by judges and law enforcement officers, but also by medical and drug treatment organizations, and Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, who founded and operated his own drug treatment program, and was statewide co-chairman of the opposition campaign.

The statewide vote may underscore what Lucas County voters have been saying the last few years to the local Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services board: that drug users shouldn't expect society to fix the mess they get themselves into.

It's a callous view, and one we don't accept. But Issue 1 had another flaw - it would have needlessly cluttered the Ohio Constitution.

Issue 1 supporters promise to be back on the ballot in Ohio in 2004, banking on a bigger voter turnout in a presidential election year. They intend to use the time until then, as Issue 1's campaign director Ed Orlett said, “to do a better job in educating the voter.”

But last week's election result shows that Ohio voters have already educated themselves.

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