Bipartisan Opposition to Issue One

Issue One will devastate Ohio, according to Republicans and Democrats alike. It just doesn’t make sense on any level past the talking points. Even judges and justices, who are normally expected not to speak on issues, are free to speak on Issue One because it poses a threat to the administration of justice. One prominent pastor who originally supported it, publicly renounced it once he realized that it cannot live up to its promises.

I spoke with the chairmen of Sandusky County’s Republican and Democratic Parties. While they may disagree on many levels, they both oppose Issue One.

When I reached out to Chris Liebold, Chairman of the Sandusky County Democratic Party for a public comment, he replied, “Judges, prosecutors and law enforcement are already working very hard to get treatment to those who need it. Rather than passing an amendment to our constitution our legislature should seriously examine the issues surrounding the availability of treatment and the overcrowded state of our prisons and jails.”

Justin Smith, Sandusky County Republican Party chairman,  says, “Vote no on State Issue 1! With the drug addiction crisis tearing apart Ohio we must get tough on drug dealers not encourage them. Please join me in voting no to this terrible plan backed by out of state residents.”

None of us are bashful about sharing our views or debating the issues. But when we can come together on something as important as this, we should. While some candidates have chosen to stay silent, many are advocating against Issue One. If we have a local candidate from either party in favor of it, they aren’t talking about it.

The Promise Almost No One Believes

The stated intent of Issue One is a cause that the average person, Republican or Democrat, might agree on – Prison Reform. Addiction is largely a mental health issue that incarceration does not resolve. In today’s society, it is difficult to find someone whose life has not been touched by addiction. I am no exception. My father found himself homeless and eventually died from his addictions.

The few proponents of Issue One, tell us that Issue One will redirect addicts from prison to prosperity via mental health recovery. This promise would have a bipartisan appeal to anyone who believed it to be true. No one takes joy in seeing people incarcerated. In addition to the human element, no one appreciates the financial burden this places on taxpaying citizens. If Issue One could alleviate the human suffering and the financial stress on our communities, who could oppose it?

Fortunately, people in both parties have read beyond the first paragraph and see Issue One as an empty promise. The truth is that Issue One will have just the opposite effect.

The Judicial Truth

Although the court system is rightfully expected to be non-partisan, there is a practical recognition that there are indeed Republicans and Democrats who serve as judges and justices. This does not imply that they apply partisan justice. They simply have differing views on how to interpret laws and constitutions. Even though they do not run as partisans, the parties do endorse the candidate that favors their judicial philosophy.

With this in mind, it is worth noting that judicial officers of both parties oppose Issue One. While jurists typically avoid commenting on issues, judicial ethics permit them to speak when the issue affects the administration of justice. Many, including the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court,  have spoken in a bipartisan manner because this issue is so blatantly dangerous.

In fact, The Toledo Blade reports that the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association has come out in strong opposition to Issue One.

The Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association joins prosecutors in opposition to the Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation amendment, arguing that it offers the carrot of drug treatment without the stick of potential prison time to convince an offender to reach for it.

Visit the home of the Ohio Judicial Conference and you will discover multiple reasons to oppose Issue One. Judges don’t relish sending people to prison but they need tools in their toolbox to motivate offenders to seek help. We all recognize this as the “carrot and stick” approach. When an authority figure has the opportunity to present both an incentive and consequences, he has greater power to persuade addicts to seek help. This is what our drug courts are all about.

If you know someone addicted, you also know that seeking help is not their first priority in life. The next fix is really all that they are looking for. Their minds are clouded and they do not process information clearly. They are often incapable of self-motivation. Their history is often one of unfulfilled promises of self-improvement. They mean it when they say it. They are simply incapable of follow through. They lack the volitional resources to rally themselves behind their own promises.

This is where the court system relies on options to introduce outside motivation into their lives. The addict is faced with an “if/then” scenario. If you do this, then this will happen. If you refuse treatment, you will go to prison. If you choose treatment, your sentence will be reduced. This is often the only meaningful motivation an addict receives to seek help. Issue One will strip the courts of the ability to provide this effetive motivation.

The Simple Truth

If you were pulled over for speeding and the law enforcement officer found you with a 12-ounce beer in one hand and nineteen grams of fentanyl in the other, which one would send you to jail? Keep in mind that this is enough fentanyl to kill 10,000 people. This is not the amount of fentanyl a user would possess. This is what you would expect to find in the hands of a dealer.

A vote for Issue One would say that the dealer would go free while they social drinker would find a spot in the county jail.

The Financial Truth

Proponents advertise that the savings from the decreased prison population would be redirected towards treatment. That only works if there are real savings. What happens if it actually proves to cost more?  The non-partisan Ohio Office of Budget and Management concludes that the advertised savings are imaginary. Critical analysis demonstrates that it could cost in the tens of millions. 

Therefore, OBM concludes that the proposed amendment would not produce significant savings to the state and could (depending on interpretation) actually increase costs to the state by tens of millions of dollars. For local governments, the proposed amendment would add costs that likely would not be covered by potentially available appropriations under amendment.

The promise of more money for treatment is an empty promise.

The Top Cop’s Truth

I support Dave Yost. You might prefer Steve Dettelbach. These two men are competing to replace Mike DeWine as Ohio’s top cop. They differ in many significant areas but there is one thing that all three agree on. Each of them believes that Issue One is bad news for Ohio.

Dave Yost is right when he says that Issue One would “create chaos” in the court system. However, he does recognize the need for common sense reform. The Columbus Dispatch reports:

Yost said if Issue 1 fails, it’s incumbent upon the General Assembly to “rationalize” the state’s existing drug laws.

“It’s insane that we treat possession and trafficking (of heroin) as the same offense,” he said. “I would escalate trafficking and deescalate possession.”

Dettlebach’s website reports, ” [A]fter extensive and thoughtful discussions with leaders in the legal, judicial, law enforcement, and treatment communities around Ohio, Steve has decided he will vote ‘no,’ on Issue 1. The measure would enshrine in the Ohio Constitution a series of legal changes that, while well-intentioned, are too difficult to amend.”

He is correct. The constitution should not be used to accomplish what should be done in the legislature. Constitutional referendums are cumbersome methods of legislation and are usually funded by special interest groups from outside of Ohio. The legislature is composed of elected representatives specifically for that purpose. They are the best and proper means for enacting and/or repairing legislation.

Our current Attorney General, Mike DeWine, agrees with both. The Toledo Blade reports him standing with prosecutors, judges and treatment centers on this issue.

“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 Life Truth

How bad does it have to be for the coroner’s association to take a side? Well, they have. The Ohio State Coroners Associaton doesn’t mince any words but simply cuts to the chase. “If you empty the prisons you will fill the morgue.” Read the report here.

Be A Non-partisan Voice of Reason

Many of us will part ways when it comes to our candidates of choice. However, we can be a united voice of reason on this one issue, Issue One.

If Ohio has the least restrictive laws in the midwest, reason tells us where the dealers will land. Why should we make it easier to pollute our communities with drugs than Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania? Do we really want to advertise that Ohio is the place to deal dangerous drugs? I don’t think so.

And just after I published this the Cleveland Dispatch reported,

Another ‘no’: An organization representing over 150 private alcohol, drug, mental health and family services agencies announced Wednesday it opposes Issue 1. The Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Service Providers agrees with the premise of reclassifying drug crimes to misdemeanors, but said as a constitutional amendment, it lacks the flexibility to make changes as needed.

It’s getting harder every minute to find any credible source in favor of Issue One. Let’s stand together and VOTE NO ON ISSUE ONE!






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