Republican candidate for governor Mike DeWine addresses his concerns about State Issue 1 that would lessen penalties for some drug offenses.

Ohio governor candidates clash over Issue 1

State Issue 1 has emerged as a key point of contention in Ohio’s governor race, with the two major party candidates standing on opposite sides of the proposed constitutional amendment that would lessen some penalties for drug possession.

At a press conference in Dayton Friday, Republican Mike DeWine said, if passed the ballot issue will make it harder for judges and probation officers to compel drug users into treatment, and leave more drug dealers on the streets.

“We want people who have a small amount of drugs to get the help they need,” DeWine said, but he argued that a constitutional amendment is the wrong way to make reforms.

Democrat Richard Cordray supports the measure and has previously said it will help get more people into treatment for drug addiction.

RELATED: What is State Issue 1 on the Ohio ballot?

Issue 1 would convert the lowest-level felony drug possession and drug-use crimes — felony 4 and felony 5 — to misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period, but would keep drug trafficking crimes as felonies.

DeWine appeared with his running mate, Secretary of State Jon Husted, and Lisa Crosley, president of Dayton heating and cooling company EnviroControl Systems. 

“Speaking as a business owner, I’m deeply concerned about Issue 1,” Crosley said. Taking away the threat of jail or prison, she said, makes it seem like Ohio is telling people that drug use is OK. Businesses like hers, she said, are struggling to find workers who can pass drug tests.

RELATED: John Legend lends support to State Issue 1

In campaign ads and interviews, DeWine has claimed passing Issue 1 would mean a person with 1,000 pounds of deadly fentanyl would be charged with a misdemeanor offense.

Cordray’s campaign called those ads misleading and said DeWine has lied about Cordray’s position.

Multiple media outlets that have examined the proposed amendment have found that it would not change drug-trafficking laws or penalties, and would also not prevent police and prosecutors from charging such a person with a felony trafficking offense.

Politifact Ohio, which fact-checks the statements of politicians on both sides of the aisle, has rated DeWine’s claims that Issue 1 would leave drug dealers on the streets as false.

But DeWine defends the statement. Anyone who argues that someone with a large quantity of drugs could simply be charged with trafficking has never been a prosecutor, he said. “It’s very difficult to charge someone with trafficking.”

The ballot measure also prohibits judges from sending people to prison if they violate probation with something other than a new crime, such as missing an appointment. Offenders who complete rehabilitation programs — except those convicted of murder, rape or child molestation — could have their prison sentences reduced.

Any money saved by fewer people going to prison w0uld put it into drug treatment and crime victim programs, according to the language in the amendment.

Funding Issue 1 is a group of billionaires including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan; Nicholas and Susan Pritzker of San Francisco; and George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center. Supporters also include the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Opponents include Republican Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and the Ohio Bar Association.

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