Op-Ed August 28, 2018

Rob Walgate
Vice-President, The American Policy Roundtable

Ohio Issue One: A Quick Fix that Fails

The language on the wrapping paper is carefully worded to sound compassionate. Words such as “safe,” “healthy” and “community” surround Ohio Ballot Issue One. The funders are almost all from out of state, from Silicon Valley and beyond. They are the new billionaires who are awakening to “social justice” and are now linked up with a few old hands like George Soros, the international Progressive billionaire with a more-than-checkered legal and political past. Almost every dollar spent to place this amendment on the ballot has come from out-of-state donors.

So why do Mark Zuckerberg and his allies, including Mr. Soros, want to own a whole new section of the Ohio Constitution? Why are they suddenly concerned about reforming drug laws in Ohio?

Their amendment is sending shivers down the collective spines of Ohio judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers. Placing a six-page, poorly defined law in the Ohio Constitution is the first offense. Matters as fluid and personal as criminal sentencing on drugs are matters for the Ohio Revised Code where the elected Legislature can hold public hearings and make changes as time and circumstances demand. The Constitution is not the proper place for this kind of law.

Issue One is also frightening to people who have endured the scourge of addictions, especially the tragedy of opioid-driven deaths. Issue One grants a blanket exemption from serious prosecution for any form of drug in Ohio making possession and use of any drug a simple misdemeanor. A misdemeanor in legal practice is about the equivalent to getting a traffic ticket.

Legal experts, such as former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, have rightly rejected this proposed amendment. Why in an age of growing addictions and tragedies do we want to make drug offenses less onerous? Why do we want to send a message to drug traffickers that Ohio has the most lax drug laws in the nation?

Issue One handcuffs Ohio judges while giving criminals a “get out of jail free card.” Judges will lose options and discretion on how to best deal with offenders before the courts. Issue One will also permit those already convicted for prior drug offenses the right to petition the courts for early release based on the reduced sentencing provisions of this amendment.

The saddest fact about Ohio Issue One is that it trivializes and politicizes a very serious issue. Drug addiction knows no boundaries of race, religion, politics or economics. The more we learn about the science of the human mind and the potency of modern drugs, the more we realize that our approach to drug prescriptions, mental health practices and “convenience” drugs are all in serious need of reform. Along with the criminal justice questions these issues all require serious debate, serious reforms and constant legal update and review. Issue One offers only a “quick fix” slapped into the Ohio Constitution that will actually work against this kind of serious dialogue and reform. Lawmakers will use the amendment as a reason to do nothing more. Lawyers will have a field day arguing over the poorly worded definitions and timelines. The courts will be clogged with people arguing about the meaning of this new amendment. And we the people of Ohio will be stuck with having to pass more amendments to undo this mess because by law, the General Assembly cannot override the Constitution.

Issue One is a bad idea and a bad approach to a very serious problem. Ohio voters will do well to reject this measure on the November ballot and protect their constitution and fellow citizens from this dangerous false alternative to real reform.

Rob Walgate is the Vice-President of The American Policy Roundtable, founded in Ohio in 1980 as an independent, non-profit organization. The Roundtable has been involved in the legal construction, legislation, litigation, passage and defeat of ballot issues on term limits, campaign finance reform, tax reform, bond issues, school funding, the Lottery and casino gambling.