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Published: October 24, 2018 Author: Joe Higgins

Ohio’s Issue 1 — which proposes to reduce penalties for crimes of obtaining, possessing and using illegal drugs — is a topic of great debate heading into the November election in Ohio. In order to answer some of the questions about the amendment to the state’s constitution, Athens HOPE is hosting a public forum on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Athens Community Center in Athens.

Stephen Johnson, deputy director for policy at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, will argue for the passage of the amendment while Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association (OPAA), will advocate against the amendment.

Johnson has been involved in writing and successfully advocating for state legislation to remove barriers for people with criminal records and is part of a team leading the Issue 1 campaign to reduce incarceration and shift resources to drug treatment.

Tobin was previously the deputy director of the Ohio Judicial Conference where he worked for seven years in various legislative and judicial services positions. The OPAA has stated that the promises made in support of Issue 1 are “based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of how the justice system treats drug addicted offenders and deals with illegal drug trade.”

“Athens HOPE members feel this is an issue that voters should be fully informed about and we are happy to host an opportunity for people to learn from experts on both sides of the issue,” said Rebecca Robison-Miller, chair of the organization.

The language on the ballot states that if adopted, the amendment would:

  • Require sentence reductions of incarcerated individuals, except individuals incarcerated for murder, rape, or child molestation, by up to 25 percent if the individual participates in rehabilitative, work, or educational programming.
  • Mandate that criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing, or using any drug such as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, and other controlled substances cannot be classified as a felony, but only a misdemeanor.
  • Prohibit jail time as a sentence for obtaining, possessing, or using such drugs until an individual's third offense within 24 months.
  • Allow an individual convicted of obtaining, possessing, or using any such drug prior to the effective date of the amendment to ask a court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor, regardless of whether the individual has completed the sentence.
  • Require any available funding, based on projected savings, to be applied to state-administered rehabilitation programs and crime victim funds.
  • Require a graduated series of responses, such as community service, drug treatment, or jail time, for minor, non-criminal probation violations.

Athens HOPE (Halting Opioid Abuse through Prevention and Education) is a community group founded in 2017 to aid in the fight against the opioid epidemic and was created through a partnership between the Athens City-Council Health Department, Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions and OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital. Athens HOPE is not endorsing a position either for or against the Issue 1 initiative.