Issue 1 passage would harm Lawrence County

Published 9:02 am Saturday, October 27, 2018

On Nov. 6, your Ohio ballot will include a proposed change to our state constitution which is commonly being referred to as “Issue 1”.

This is not something being implemented by our legislature. It is a ballot referendum initiated with the help of big money lobbyists from out of state. As such, if passed, our constitution will be amended and those state legislators we elect and send to Columbus will be unable to override it with subsequent legislation. Voters must first ask themselves, why would billionaires in California and other states want to spend millions of dollars to change Ohio’s drug laws?

I urge all Ohio voters to do research on Issue 1 before you cast your vote. It is not easy in a short 1 or 2 sentence bumper sticker to explain what is terribly wrong about this amendment. As an attorney, I can tell you that it is not a partisan issue here locally. Those heavily involved in combating our opioid epidemic know this is not the answer. This includes both of our common pleas judges, one a Republican and the other a Democrat.

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Also opposing it is our juvenile court judge and both municipal court judges. It includes our county sheriff, prosecuting attorney, auditor, coroner, all three commissioners and other elected officials from both parties. I’ve spoken to many defense counsel for adults and juveniles from both parties as well as independents and, to date, none that I know of have come out in support of Issue 1. Don’t take my word for it…contact your elected officials and candidates and ask them yourself if they support it.

Instead of continuing our work locally with the drug courts and other drug diversionary programs, this amendment would classify most offenses of possession and use of drugs as misdemeanor offenses, including such hard drugs as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, meth, and others. These drugs are killing our loved ones, including children. Instead of facing the potential of incarceration, people caught with these drugs will only risk potentially getting probation unless it’s their third offense within 24 months.

Some proponents of Issue 1 argue that addicts should not just be sentenced to prison and have a felony conviction on their record and that this amendment will focus on treatment rather than punishment. I can tell you that, locally, if you are an addict and you are charged with use or possession (not dealing), our courts will offer you the opportunity to voluntarily get treatment for your addiction and avoid a felony conviction if you are sincere.

Under Issue 1, there is no threat of potential incarceration, so many addicts will have no motivation to get help with their substance abuse problem, and judges will not be able to mandate that they do so. More people will die if Issue 1 passes … guaranteed. And this includes children living in the house with addicts. A parent can be in possession of almost 20 grams of fentanyl…enough to kill 10,000 people…and it will not be a felony. What happens when a young child comes across that much fentanyl while their parent is distracted, passed out and/or high?

I believe Issue 1 will hit Lawrence County especially hard. Drug dealers and users from West Virginia and Kentucky will likely move their business across the river to Ohio where the potential for prison time is no longer there in many cases. If you think Huntington is bad now, just wait until you see what happens to South Point, Proctorville, Chesapeake, and the rest of our communities when dealers from Michigan and elsewhere set up shop in our back yards. And along with drug use and sales will come an increase of associated crimes such as burglary, theft, and assault.

And Issue 1 is not all just about drugs. Felons currently serving time for serious crimes such as robbery, burglary, child pornography, etc., are given the opportunity under this amendment to have their sentences reduced by up to 25 percent with minimal participation in rehabilitation programs while incarcerated. They get this credit if they just sit through the programs, regardless of whether it is shown that they are actually rehabilitated. Victims of violent crimes may unknowingly see the perpetrators return to their communities much quicker than they initially thought at trial.

Again, do not take my word for it. Do your research on legitimate, non-biased sources and speak to your elected officials, attorneys, child protective agency workers, probation officers, law enforcement personnel and others to find out the truth. Any problems with our drug laws needs to be addressed in our elected Ohio legislature, not solved with an amendment initiated by big money California billionaires with a financial stake in legalizing drugs.

Remember to turn the ballot over and vote “NO” on Issue 1, the proposed constitutional amendment titled “To Reduce Penalties for Crimes of Obtaining, Possessing, and Using Illegal Drugs.”


James Payne is an Ohio licensed attorney of 23 years with an office in South Point.