Election day in the US is on Tuesday, November 6 and in addition to the slew of people running for political office in Ohio, there are also a large number of candidates for judicial offices and various ballot issues. One of the ballot issues is Issue 1 that is a constitutional amendment that calls for major reforms in sentencing for drug possession. Basically it distinguishes users of drugs from dealers of drugs, and treats the former as people with a health problem that should be treated medically, socially, and psychologically and not punitively. Drug addiction is better treated as a disease, not as a choice that people can be frightened away from with the threat of harsh prison sentences.
Issue 1, according to the measure’s text, was designed to reduce the number of people in state prisons for low-level, nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession and non-criminal probation violations.
The initiative would make the possession, obtainment, and use of drugs no more than a misdemeanor, with sentences not exceeding probation for a first or second offense. Issue 1 would not change the classification of first-, second-, or third-degree drug-related felonies, such as the sale, distribution, or trafficking of drugs. The initiative would also allow individuals serving convictions higher than a misdemeanor for possession, obtainment, and use of drugs to petition the court for re-sentencing.
Courts would be prohibited from ordering that persons on probation for felonies be sent to prison for non-criminal probation violations. The ballot initiative would require the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) to grant an inmate with sentence credits of 0.5 days for each day that the person participated in rehabilitative, work, or educational programs.
The ballot initiative would require that state funds saved due to a reduction of inmates, resulting from the initiative’s implementation, be spent on substance abuse treatment programs, crime victim programs, probation programs, graduated responses programs, and rehabilitation programs,
In general, I do not like the idea of changing the constitution in such an ad hoc manner. This is the kind of measure that should be passed by law. The problem is that with the legislature stacked in favor of ‘tough-on-crime’ conservatives some of whom are also in the pocket of the profit-seeking private prison industry that wants as many people incarcerated as possible, there is little chance of any meaningful drug sentencing reform being passed and the only path for voters is the constitutional amendment route. So I will vote yes on Issue 1.
Meanwhile, Canada has become the second nation in the world to legalize recreational marijuana use. Uruguay was the first to do so in 2013. I expect many more countries to start following suit.