Issue 1, also known as “The Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment,” is being advertised widely around the state on television and radio. Please do not let slick marketing campaigns distract you from the dangerous consequences of amending our state’s Constitution with Issue 1.
Issue 1 would undermine the very goal it claims to serve by giving individuals more latitude to possess greater amounts of illegal drugs with less severe consequences. Offenses that are currently felonies would be reclassified and reduced to misdemeanors.
Judges would no longer be able to exercise discretion as to whether the threat of or imposition of a jail sentence is needed. In a nutshell, the court could order someone into treatment but would have limited recourse if providers report lack of compliance.
As a former practicing attorney, former guardian ad litem, and now judge, I have had a front row seat to the difficult circumstances surrounding those struggling with drug addiction. I have seen people lose their friends and family and still use. I have seen people have their children placed in foster care and still use. I have seen people be revived from the brink of death more than once and still use. Sometimes, incarceration is the only remaining consequence left to serve as “rock bottom” to establish accountability and motivate a person to comply with a recovery specialist’s treatment recommendations.
Let me emphasize that not everyone possessing serious drugs deserves to be incarcerated, which is why courts throughout Ohio and here in Morrow County already have programs in place to monitor each individual’s progress and commitment to treatment.
However, sometimes the possibility of imprisonment is the only consequence left when all other options have failed. The one-size-fits-all approach of Issue 1 eliminates judicial discretion that is sometimes needed to motivate individuals who have not been responsive to other motivation techniques.
Lastly, Issue 1 is a proposed Constitutional amendment. Unlike laws passed by the legislature, Ohio’s Constitution cannot be easily repealed or amended to address ineffective or unintended consequences. If you are concerned about even one consequence of Issue 1 — changing drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors, limiting jail and prison sentences for drug offenders, eliminating the threat of prison for most probation violations, or permitting early release from prison — please vote no.
There is no question Ohio’s courts and communities recognize drug addiction is a serious medical issue that affects many aspects of our society. It tears apart families and has economic effects that are wide ranging; including strains on our law enforcement and other social services.
At the end of the day, reducing options available to courts through an inflexible constitutional amendment is not the solution we need. Therefore, I hope you will join me in opposing Issue 1 on Nov. 6.
Judge Jenifer Murphy Burnaugh
Morrow County Municipal Court