The fundamental difference between supporters and opponents of Issue 1, according to Democratic State Representative Stephanie Howse, is, “We believe in treatment over incarceration.”
Howse and the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus stood with other supporters of Issue 1 at the Statehouse Thursday and claimed some opponents of the issue are using fear tactics to maintain the status quo.
They point to the frequently used claim that a person caught with 19 grams of fentanyl, enough to kill 10,000 people, would only be charged with a misdemeanor. Rob Richardson, running as a Democrat for State Treasurer, says that is something PolitiFact has already addressed in a claim by Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Mike DeWine that was labeled false.
“They know that though, they’re still trying to play that up,” Richardson said.
It is possible for someone with that much fentanyl to be charged with trafficking. But according to Louis Tobin, the executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, it’s unlikely and would only happen if the prosecutor could prove it.
Tobin claims it would be next to impossible because it would require catching the dealer in the act of selling a large enough amount of drugs and would expose undercover officers’ identities. Plus, even then the dealers would simply adjust how much they sell to avoid felony charges. He says that is why many dealers are only charged with possession instead.
Tobin provided these examples of how large amounts of drugs aren’t being charged as trafficking:
- In State of Ohio v. Keith Tillis, Tillis was charged with aggravated possession of drugs (F5) and had 5.5 grams of fentanyl.
- In State of Ohio v. Dewain Watkins, Watkins was charged with aggravated possession of drugs (F5) and had 6.1 grams of fentanyl.
- In State of Ohio v. Charles Whitfield, Whitfield was charged with aggravated possession of drugs (F5) and had 19.9 grams of fentanyl.
- In State of Ohio v. Walter L. Smith, Smith was arrested with 109 grams of cocaine and charged with possession (F1).
As a result of all of this, supporters of Issue 1 say addicts are being treated like dealers.
“It is sickening what is happening in our criminal justice system — it is not just, it is not fair and we are doing absolutely nothing to help them. You have a title of a felon, you can’t get housing, you can’t get a job, you can’t get education. We are putting people in a place of desperation and we need to stop,” Howse said.
According to Tobin, that may not be the case by the end of the month when Senate Bill 66 goes into effect and convicted felons can apply to have the records of up to five felonies sealed. He says this will allow them to check the “no” box on many job applications when asked if they have any felony convictions.
There are still some exceptions, like certain convictions, that would prevent them from being able to put their past behind them and some exceptions to the kind of job where they could say they had no previous felonies for.
One of the reasons Ohio is in the position it is currently in is a lack of a possession with intent to distribute charge like other states have, according to Tobin.
To complicate matters, Tobin says that if Issue 1 does pass, such a charge may never be created in Ohio because of the way the ballot measure can be interpreted to apply to possession charges.
Ultimately, it will be Ohio voters that decide whether or not Issue 1 is added to the State Constitution on Nov. 6.