Prosecutor, coroner & sheriff oppose Ohio's Issue 1

Prosecutor, coroner & sheriff oppose Ohio's Issue 1. (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Hamilton County's prosecutor, coroner and sheriff urged the public Monday to vote "No" on Ohio Issue One.

The issue would add an amendment to Ohio's constitution that would mandate possession of drugs such as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and LSD to be classified a misdemeanor and not a felony. It would also prohibit jail time as a sentence for possessing or using drugs until the third offense within 24 months and would allow those already convicted of a felony offense to ask the court to reduce it to a misdemeanor.

"It's bad news for Ohio," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said Monday. "The only motivation I can find for doing this is, it just seems like the state just wants to clean out the jails."

Supporters of Issue One say it would save tens of millions of dollars spent on prisons each year and those savings would be directed to rehab programs for drug addicts and crime victims.

"There is so much investment in punishing people and locking them up in prison cells and so little investment in healing those people who need to transform their lives," said Stephen JohnsonGrove, of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.

JohnsonGrove supports Issue One because he said the legislature hasn't done enough to deal with the drug epidemic. He also says it doesn't keep prosecutors from charging drug dealers.

"Issue 1 is a mandate from the people of Ohio: we don't want you to lock up our family members just because they're addicted to a substance," JohnsonGrove said.

Part of the campaign is being funded by Democratic activist George Soros and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Hamilton County's coroner said Issue One goes too far.

"We're all on the same page on this. We want to help the addicts but a constitutional amendment that's going to be really hard to change in the future if the voters want to? I don't think that's the answer," said Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco.

Hamilton Co. Sheriff Jim Neil said his jail offers detox and other programs to addicts who are incarcerated. Deters said Hamilton County has 28 alternative sentencing programs for people who possess or use drugs.

"This myth that there are low-level drug offenders in prison is simply that. It is a myth," Deters said. "It may be well-intended. But in Hamilton County we actively pursue alternatives than jail. We actively do it. Treatment, the drug court has been a huge success."

Dr. Sammarco and Sheriff Neil are Democrats while Deters is a Republican. They said their opposition is not political. But, Issue One has become an issue in the race for governor. Democrat Rich Cordray supports Issue One and Republican opposes it.

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