COLUMBUS — Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general and Republican candidate for governor, on Monday denounced as “irresponsible and dangerous” a proposed constitutional amendment to downgrade low-level, non-violent drug felonies to misdemeanors.
He stood with prosecutors, judges, treatment center operators, and addicts to argue that Issue 1 would remove the stick that gets addicts into treatment as an alternative to prison time.
“This threat, carefully used by our judges, has saved thousands and thousands of lives,” Mr. DeWine said. “Issue 1 would take that away, and thousands would remain in the grips of opioids by not getting the treatment they need to recover. Because the truth is that some people just don’t go into treatment unless they are pushed to do it. There’s nothing humane about Issue 1.”
The sole statewide question on the Nov. 6 ballot will ask voters to reduce what are currently fourth and fifth-degree drug felonies to misdemeanors and redirect any financial savings seen from a reduced state prison population into treatment and crime victims’ programs.
The so-called Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment takes state prison off the table as well as potentially county jail time until the misdemeanor is the third such offense within two years.
Mr. DeWine has been on the record in opposition to the ballot issue, but his latest remarks were his strongest to date against it.
“Eight years of Mike DeWine’s failure have given us a tripling of opioid-related deaths and rising drug crime,” said Richard Cordray, Democratic candidate for governor and a supporter of Issue 1. “The time for him to step up and solve this problem has long passed. Now, he wants to play politics with the opioid epidemic as it is destroying families and communities across Ohio.
"As governor, I will work with law enforcement to make sure drug dealers are convicted and serve long prison sentences, while people who need substance abuse treatment can get it in our communities,” he said. ”And I will make sure that the big drug companies, who have long bankrolled Mike DeWine's campaigns, are held accountable."
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, the Ohio Association of Common Pleas Judges, prosecutors, and some lawmakers oppose Issue 1.
They’ve also argued that the ballot issue would shift costs from the state to local communities without a guaranteed source of funding and would violate plea agreements signed off on by crime victims.
Ohio governor candidates Mike DeWine, left, and Richard Cordray have opposing views on the drug sentencing ballot issue.
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In addition to downgrading future cases, the amendment would allow those previously convicted of these crimes to ask the courts to reduce their own felonies to misdemeanors and adjust their sentences accordingly.
Inmates could also see their sentences reduced by up to 25 percent for participation in rehabilitation, education, or work programs while behind bars.
Shea Frasier, 27, of Marysville, “graduated” from an Allen County drug court after being convicted of heroin trafficking and possession charges. She was sentenced to a court outside of her home of Union County because her father, a judge, runs the drug court there.
She said she would not have pursued treatment if not forced to through drug court. She’s been sober for nine years, she said.
“[Issue 1] is not going to help anybody or anyone,” Ms. Frasier said. “It’s like slapping a Band-Aid on a someone for a gaping wound.”
Stephen JohnsonGrove, deputy director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, helped to craft Issue 1.
“What Issue 1 does is prioritize treatment for people who are addicted by requiring them to be sentenced to probation to get treatment in the first place,” he said. “If someone violates probation, and people who are addicted do tend to cycle through several times before success, they can be held accountable by jail — even after the first offense.
“So this notion that we’re taking away all the sticks is not true and is misguided,” he said.
He also disputed the argument that the issue is an unfunded mandate on local communities. He said the amendment would require lawmakers to earmark all savings from not sending people to state prison for local drug treatment, victims’ programs, and drug courts.
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