All six Scioto County judges have joined together to discredit State Issue 1, which will, in some opinions, decriminalize drugs altogether.
State Issue 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would drop many of the state’s drug crimes from felony four and felony five offenses to misdemeanor offenses. A “yes” vote will be for the amendment, a “no” vote is against the amendment.
Many local politicians, as well as state and federal politicians have come out against the issue for different reasons. Some opposition is the decriminalizing aspect, while others are opposed to the issue because they don’t feel it is necessary to change the Ohio Constitution in order to address drug addiction.
In a signed letter, Common Pleas Court Judges Howard H. Harcha III, Mark E. Kuhn, Jerry L. Buckler and R. Allen Lemons, as well as Portsmouth Municipal Judges Russell D. Kegley and Steven L. Mowery, came out in opposition to the issue. The following is the letter in it’s entirety:
“As Scioto County Judges, we have the responsibility of sanctioning convicted drug offenders and try to direct them to treatment while holding them accountable for their actions. Although the concept of Issue I sounds good, we strongly disagree with the proposed language and urge voters to vote ‘no’ on Issue 1.
Scioto County has seen a significant rise in overdose deaths and the Scioto County Courts are on the front line of this crisis. Issue 1 would reclassify all fourth and fifth degree felony drug abuse offenses as misdemeanors. These drugs include heroin, opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl. A mere trace of fentanyl, enough to cover Lincolns’s beard on a penny, is fatal. Under Issue 1, possession of 19 grams of fentanyl reduces the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor, depite the fact that 19 grams of fentanyl can kill 10,000 people.
If Issue 1 passes, a person would need to be convicted of possession of fentanyl 3 times within a 24 month period before a judge can even consider a jail sentence with such a deadly drug. Judges should not be restricted from considering all appropriate sanctions for the possession of these deadly drugs.
Issue 1 undermines the court’s ability to encourage addicts to undergo treatment instead of suffering incarceration. Statistics show that Ohio’s Drug Courts and Intervention statutes have effectively helped people achieve sustainable long-term recovery from drug addiction. Judges understand the collateral consequences of incarceration and how it disrupts recovery efforts, employment and families. Issue 1 will restrict a judge’s ability to enforce its treatment orders and will result in fewer people going into or completing treatment.
Issue 1 is an attempt to amend the Ohio Constitution. It is not an Ohio statute passed by the Ohio legislature. If Issue 1 is successful, changes necessary to remedy its poorly drafted language cannot be made without another statewide ballot in initiative. The legislature would be unable to intervene and correct the unintended consequences of this amendment.
We believe that Issue 1 is bad for Scioto County and is detrimental to the health and safety of our community. We urge you to vote no on Issue 1.”
The letter was signed by all judges listed.
Kuhn, who oversees the county’s drug court at the felony level, said in an interview with the Daily Times, if Issue 1 passes, his drug court will essentially go away. “I think it will essentially end the drug court here,” Kuhn said. “If they (drug offenses) become misdemeanors, they won’t come through here.”
It is the threat of incarceration that makes drug courts work, Kuhn said. He said he deals with drug issues on a daily basis, where an individual chooses treatment over incarceration. Kuhn said if the threat of incarceration is eliminated through this initiative, there will not be a reason for users to seek treatment.
“You don’t have that threat anymore,’ Kuhn said. “It’s making people do something they don’t want to do…or can’t do on their own.”
At the misdemeanor level, Judge oversees drug court at the Portsmouth Municipal Court. He too will be hamstrung by the Amendment, since he cannot issue jail time unless the individual is charged twice within a 24 month period.
Kegley was unavailable for comment as of press time Tuesday.
Reach Mark Richard at 740-370-0707, or [email protected]