The Vindicator historically has viewed the Ohio Constitution as a sacred document singularly designed to outline the most basic legal principles and to explain the most general outlines of an efficient and democratic state government.
It is not, as many special interests over many decades would have had it, a welcome mat for a hodgepodge of issue-specific laws that rightly belong in the Ohio Revised Code as statutes enacted after a full and open legislative debate in the state’s House of Representatives and Senate.
That’s why we often have opposed such unnecessary and dangerous tinkering with that most fundamental set of overarching principles defining our state government.
We did so several times in the 1990s and early 2000s on a wealth of proposed constitutional amendments – ultimately successful in 2009 – that sought to legalize casino gambling in the Buckeye State.
It, therefore, should come as little surprise to our long-time readers that we staunchly oppose state Issue 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot. That issue, the only statewide initiative on the fall ballot, would reduce penalties for crimes of obtaining, possessing and using illegal drugs by categorizing them as misdemeanors rather than felonies and prevent jail sentences on the first two offenses.
It would add a new Section 12 to Article XV of the Ohio Constitution outlining these and other narrow regulations and laws designed to reduce overcrowding in state prisons and to increase rehabilitation and treatment for drug addicts.
Judicial leaders from Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court to Judge John Durkin of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court have led the charge statewide to encourage voters to reject Issue 1.
O’Connor and Durkin participated in a debate at The Vindicator on the citizen-initiative last month, arguing convincingly that expanding treatment options for drug addicts and decreasing the state’s prison population are responsibilities of the state Legislature. If handled as a constitutional amendment, the law becomes too permanent and too difficult to change without the costly, complicated and lengthy process of another constitutional amendment.
O’Connor, Durkin and others, however, have other reasons for opposing the content of Issue 1. Among the arguments they and other judicial and law-enforcement opponents raise include these:
The message to drug traffickers is that doing business in Ohio is low risk.
Violent offenders cannot be sent to prison for probation violations. They will be free to disregard judges’ orders with little consequence.
Issue 1 undermines treatment because treatment is not provided for or required by this amendment.
Drug traffickers, human traffickers, aggravated robbers, and others will be eligible for up to a 25- percent reduction in their prison sentences.
Issue 1 is being bankrolled by out-of-state special interests from California.
Though we agree with many of those arguments about the potential real-world harm of the initiative, including its potential to wreak havoc on our successful drug courts, we nonetheless see the value in the underlying premise of those who support its passage.
Those supporters include Shakyra Diaz, managing director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice; and Stephen JohnsonGrove, deputy director for policy at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center. Both spoke for the issue in The Vindicator debate last month, which is still viewable online at Vindy.com.
They and others argue passionately that the state needs to make treatment and rehabilitation a stronger priority given the state’s ranking as second-highest in the nation for deaths from drug overdoses. They also argue that jail cells are not the appropriate venues for such treatment and that the prison population remains severely overcrowded.
All of those issues should be on the front burner of the state’s elected representatives and senators. Unfortunately, for the most part, Ohio lawmakers in general have shirked many of their responsibilities.
That’s why we would urge leaders of both sides of the debate to come together to craft compromises toward dealing effectively with the larger issues of drug treatment, rehabilitation and prison crowding. In the likely event of Issue 1’s defeat, we would urge them to present that package to leaders of the Legislature to craft into workable and progressive state laws.
After all, there is no need to yet again clutter up the Ohio Constitution with the many overly specific and questionably constructive provisions of Issue 1.