This country has seen a tremendous rise in drug related deaths in the last decade. In 2017, the United States suffered 72,000 drug overdose deaths with nearly 30,000 as a result of fentanyl and synthetic opioids. National Institute on Drug Abuse. In Cuyahoga County alone, 98 individuals died of opioid overdoses in the final three months of 2017. Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office. However, the reality of these statistics is that there are thousands of drug users that are fortunately surviving, yet, unfortunately, facing major criminal penalties for their illegal conduct.
Issue 1, set for a vote in November, could drastically change the way drug offenders are sentenced and rehabilitated. This initiative is designed to reduce the number of people in state prisons for low-level nonviolent crimes including drug possession and non-criminal probation violations. Specifically, Issue 1 would (1) reclassify nonviolent possession-level drug offenses as misdemeanors (as opposed to current felony classification), (2) prohibit prison sentences as punishment for technical probation violations that are not new criminal offenses, (3) expand prison rehabilitation programs and allow inmates to earn sentence reductions that are more in line with the national averages, and (4) redirect state funds saved through these reforms into drug treatment and rehabilitation services.
Many individuals and groups have made public statements for and against Issue 1 in the recent months leading up to the polls. Arguments for Issue 1 include savings for taxpayers, reduced unnecessary prison sentences for non-violent offenders, and government investments in proven treatment programs as opposed to continuing the overpopulation of prisons. These arguments have been heard by Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Cordray, John Legend, Senator Cecil Thomas, and the ACLU. On the other hand, arguments against Issue 1 include an increase of violent offenders released to the streets, an increase in the opioid epidemic, and the weakened abilities of prosecutors and judges to enforce the laws. These arguments have been heard by Mike DeWine, John Kasich, Steve Dettelbach, and Justice Maureen O’Connor.
With election day less than one month away, all eyes are on Issue 1 with major potential changes to the criminal justice system on the horizon.