BEAVERCREEK TOWNSHIP — Issue 1 took center stage during a League of Women Voters candidates forum in Oct. 9 in Beavercreek Township.
Those running for state representative for districts 73 and 74, along with county commission and clerk of courts candidates all weighed in on the hotly debated topic known as The Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment. If passed, Issue 1 would amend Ohio’s constitution, adding a section 12 to Article XV to reduce the number of people in state prisons for low-level, non-violent drug possession; drug use offenses; or for non-criminal probation violations.
It would mandate that fourth and fifth degree criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing or using any drug such as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD and other controlled substances be classified as misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period, while keeping drug trafficking crimes as felonies. It also would prohibit judges from sending people to prison if they violate probation for non-criminal violations, and cut prison time for offenders who complete rehab programs, except those convicted of murder, rape, or child molestation. The amendment mandates that money saved be placed into drug treatment and crime victim programs.
Passage would also allow people convicted of certain drug crimes to petition the court for re-sentencing or release, or to have the charge changed.
The seven candidates in attendance varied on their opinions.
“Issue 1 is a bad deal,” Rep. Rick Perales, who is running for re-election in District 73. “Anyone supporting Issue 1 should be suspect.”
He called it “another effort to hijack the constitution” and passage would invite people to come to Ohio to deal drugs and not go to jail.
Perales did say spending less money on jail time and more on treatment is a “good idea.”
Cyndi Pauwels, running against Republican incumbent A.J. Williams for clerk of courts, said voters need to read the amendment itself and “look past political rhetoric and mis-information and fear-mongering.”
“This is a last resort,” she said. “It’s not perfect. It can be changed.”
Democrat Kim McCarthy, Perales’ opponent in the election, agreed that it’s not an ideal amendment and that the state needed legislation to deal with it. However, she said the war on drugs and the criminal justice system are broken and Ohio “can’t incarcerate” its way out of it. Criminals need treatment, not more jail, she said, calling the amendment a great first step. She also stressed that drug dealers are not affected, they’ll still go to jail.
Democrat Susan Lopez, running for county commission against current Greene County Treasurer Dick Gould, said she is voting against Issue 1 for reasons other than why most oppose it. Nonetheless, she said people need and are not getting long-term treatment. Lopez said she wouldn’t say someone supporting it is a “negative person.”
Gould, a former narcotics officer, said Issue 1 doesn’t force treatment. He also said that possession of 19 grams of fentanyl is enough to kill 10,000 people, but that person would never fear jail. Possession becomes a third-degree felony at 20 grams, according to the Ohio Revised Code.
He said people need treatment, but Issue 1 is a “bad law.”
“I don’t like a lot of laws anyway,” Gould said.
Anne Gorman, running against Republican incumbent Bill Dean in the 74th District, said “I thought it sounded really good.”
But she is leaning toward voting no because she doesn’t believe in “tinkering with the constitution.” The drug issue and prison overcrowding need to be solved, she said, adding that Republicans have ruled for decades and “it hasn’t been fixed yet.”
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.