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Supporters say Issue One will save lives

This is the second in a two-part series on State Issue One, a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the November ballot.

Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the way drug offenders are treated say their idea would save time and save lives by giving addicts the help they need to kick their habit.

State Issue One would, if passed, allow persons charged with or convicted of illegal possession or use of a drug, in certain circumstances, choose treatment instead of incarceration and would limit the maximum sentence that eligible first-time, second-time, and certain repeat illegal drug possession or use offenders could serve.

It would also limit the period of treatment a court may impose, require a court to dismiss legal proceedings against an offender if the offender completes the treatment, would allow an offender who successfully completes the treatment to have the conviction expunged, and require that the sealed or expunged records be kept confidential ,except for specified law enforcement and court-related purposes.

It would also require the state to spend $247 million over seven fiscal years to pay for the drug treatment programs.

The amendment is the brainchild of three wealthy businessmen, Peter B. Lewis, founder of the Cleveland-based Progressive Insurance Company, John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix, and Washington, D.C. financier George Soros.

Together they are bankrolling the Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies, the group that has placed the amendment on the ballot.

Those in favor of the amendment include Dr. Chris Adelman, president of the Ohio Society of

Addiction Medicine, campaign co-chair, Franklin County's State Sen. Ben E. Espy, also a campaign co-chair.

Campaign spokesman Ed Orlett, a former state legislator from Dayton, said the amendment will change the the state's policy of sending drug abusers to a prison system that only makes their problem worse.

"Ohio continues to send several thousand people a year to prison who are non-violent, non-dangerous, non drug-selling people, and it costs a lot of money," he said. "Ohio spends $1.6 billion a year on its prison system, and in the years I was a legislator I watched it grow to five times what it was when I went into the legislature. It costs $23,000 a year to keep a person in prison (and) it costs $3,500 a year to treat that person."

Orlett, a Wheelersburg native, denied charges that the amendment is a sneaky way of gradually bringing legalized drugs to Ohio.

"That's a scare tactic," Orlett said. "They should save the scares for Halloween."

Orlett defended the idea of using a constitutional amendment to change the state's drug laws, as opposed to effecting the change through legislation.

"Ohioans on 14 occasions previously have elected to use the constitution to appropriate funds for social needs, such as education and veterans benefits. We say the problem of drug use is a justifiable reason to use a constitutional amendment," Orlett said. "And we didn't get anywhere in the legislature. When it was introduced last year by Sen. Bob Hagan, it never even got a hearing. The legislators just aren't going to do this themselves."

Orlett said some state agencies would support the amendment, but they know their funding would be cut if they voiced support for an idea that many powerful government officials, including Gov. Taft and First Lady Hope Taft, oppose.

He also defended the portion of the amendment that would expunge a drug offender's record if they successfully complete a drug treatment program.

"Men and women with drug offenses on their records often have trouble getting jobs and housing," Orlett said. "The records would still be available for the courts and law enforcement."

Those opposed to the amendment say State Issue One would dismantle the drug courts that handle drug cases in larger cities. Orlett said that in states such as Arizona and California, where this amendment has passed, drug courts have actually expanded.