October 24, 2002

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Issue 1: good goal, wrong method

Reading the propaganda and other campaign information being circulated by proponents and opponents of State Issue 1 can lead one to understand just how confusing this proposal is. Both sides of the debate contradict each other with slick catch phrases, biting commentaries and conflicting polling numbers.

Proponents say the proposal, would mandate treatment, instead of jail, for nonviolent first-time and second-time drug offenders, is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Opponents say the proposal just plains stinks, calling it the “Drug Offenders Amendment.”

Part of the confusion may originate in the fact that Issue 1 is a confusing, complex proposal that totals almost 6,500 words. If approved by voters in the Nov. 5 election, the plan would become part of the Ohio Constitution and would require the state to pay $247 million over the next seven years to fund expanded drug treatment programs in Ohio.

Providing more treatment options for nonviolent drug offenders is a decent, worthwhile goal. This proposal, however, would establish a cumbersome policy that, in its current form, should not become law. Voters should say no on Nov. 5.

The main problem with Issue 1 is that, if approved, it would become part of the Constitution, where it could only be changed through another ballot initiative. According to the Ohio Sentencing Commission, less than 9 percent of first-time, single-count drug offenders end up in prison. Given that low number, it does not make sense to place a drug treatment plan in the Constitution.

What’s driving this is a nationwide effort to find alternatives to the country’s war of drugs. In fact, similar proposals are on the ballot in several other states, and California and Arizona voters approved related plans recently. Proponents of Issue 1 say passing this plan through a statewide vote is the only way to get it approved since the Ohio General Assembly has dragged its feet on similar proposals.

Given the dubious drug war and the swelling number of prisoners, Ohio should do more to promote alternatives to jail for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. The state, for instance, should provide more resources to substance abuse and job training programs. Ohio should also make a difference by expanding its fledgling drug court system. These changes, however, can be made more effectively than through the passage of Issue 1.


—Robert Mihalek