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Drug Law Reform: Should the Ohio Constitution be amended to mandate treatment for certain drug offenders?

By · October 24th, 2002 · Three Way

Brendon Cull

Communication Director, Hamilton County Young Democrats

Ohio Issue 1 -- the proposal to change the Ohio Constitution and mandate drug treatment for offenders -- is not right for Ohio now, or anytime soon.

Today, if a drug offender is caught, there are many options for judges and juries in sentencing. If Issue 1 would pass, those options become drastically limited. Further, multiple offenders would have their slates wiped clean. Instead of a jail sentence befitting a multiple offender, he or she would receive only treatment.

The idea of treatment is a noble one. We shouldn't just lock up drug offenders and pretend we are blind to the problems of addiction. We are a better society than that, and we must come to the aid of our poor and our addicted.

The argument should not be framed as treatment versus jail time. Ideally, it would be a "both-and" discussion. Drug offenders should know that consequences exist for their actions. A mix of jail and treatment is the right solution to these problems.

Passing Issue 1 will not do anything significant to change the way Ohio's war on drugs is fought. It won't do anything to clean up our neighborhoods. The streets of Over-the-Rhine won't suddenly be rid of drug dealers and drug addicts.

Most importantly, it will cost so much money to implement -- the bill requires spending over $250 million during seven years -- that other treatment programs and development projects designed to better our community will be adversely affected.

The bottom line is this: Ohioans should vote no on Issue 1. The billionaires that are traveling around the U.S. trying to pass these constitutional amendments should instead invest their money in creating a world-class drug treatment facility for Ohioans who are troubled with addiction.

Charles Tassell

Past President, Hamilton County Young Republicans

I applaud the focus on rehab that Issue 1 brings with it. The interesting piece that is overlooked, though, is that rehab is already used extensively by the court systems of Ohio.

The proponents of Issue 1 claim that the drug war has failed and that Issue 1 changes the philosophy on adjudicating users, dealers and sellers.

That is completely false. The 10-plus pages of constitutional language presented in Issue 1 continue the theme of punishment for users and severe punishment for dealers.

Yes, there is the classic liberal policy recommendation to provide ongoing treatment for as long as its needed -- as though going to the "Happy Rehab Farm" every time you get caught with a joint is somehow productive or a real change in policy.

The fact of the matter is that Ohio is a swing state in which Democrats needed a statewide issue to mobilize troops. What better carrot to offer than the expungement of previous drug misdemeanors and the sealing of those court documents, all wrapped in the rubric of progressive change and even an alleged savings to the state budget?

Issue 1 fails miserably by its own standard. In "offering" an alternative of flexibility, it writes these laws into the stone tablet of the state constitution. Any change would require another amendment to the constitution -- there have only been a couple in the past 10 years! Additionally, at a time of state fiscal crisis, this bill would mandate a constitutional level of funding for seven years -- a quarter billion more than current funding levels. Then the state would be thrown into the judicial morass of determining the definition of "adequate" funding. Can you say, "DeRolph decision"?

Issue 1 fails on its own merits and would add considerably to the budget and legal troubles of the state, while not even addressing real change. It limits judges' ability to sentence according to the crime and even causes the court system to become an ostrich with its head in the sand on all previous drug crimes, all the while advocating an idea, rehabilitation, that is already supported, utilized and required by judges and prosecutors alike. Issue 1 is about politics, not change.

Monica Williams

Activist, Coalition for a Just Cincinnati

I do not pretend to be an expert on drug treatment. Nor am I an expert on the Ohio penal system. Therefore my comments are based solely on my observations as an average Ohio citizen.

It appears to me that drug addiction is not too unlike other addictions that people suffer. Yet the punishment for persons who have been convicted of first time possession of crack cocaine is more severe than that of the person convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol for the first time.

Of the persons who drive while under the influence of alcohol, many are alcoholics -- in other words, addicted to alcohol. However, upon conviction, these persons do not face long term incarceration, unlike the first time drug offender who faces mandatory long-term incarceration.

Next I would like to examine the penal system. I am of the opinion that the job of the penal system should not be to punish, but rather to rehabilitate. But unfortunately this is not so. The penal system of today is strictly used as a tool of the government to punish those who have violated our laws. Therefore the question must be asked, "What happens to those who are convicted first time drug offenders?" Are they given tools to survive successfully while they are serving their mandatory sentences? Or are they simply warehoused until they can be released back into society? A society where the deck is stacked against them so high that in many cases they simply return to a life that will lead them back to prison.

I have personally seen this drama play itself out in the lives of people that I know. These people who have become victims of this vicious cycle are not bad people. They do not have horns or breathe fire. They are simply people who have been caught in a web of drug addiction and who do not have the requisite tools to free themselves.

Therefore I support the proposed amendment. I would rather see my tax dollars support a system that at least attempts to address the real issues surrounding drug addiction, versus one that maintains the big business that prisons have become. As we all know, the secret of successful business is repeat customers.

Each month, CityBeat poses a question to young leaders in the local Democrat and Republican parties as well as a selected third party or independent activist.


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