Ohio voters overwhelmingly reject Issue 1, which would decriminalize low-level drug offenders


Ohio voters defeated State Issue 1 Tuesday 63 percent to 37 percent, according to final, unofficial results. 

The proposed constitutional amendment would have changed Ohio law to keep low-level drug offenders out of prison with the goal of promoting treatment of drug addiction instead of incarceration. But opponents raised concerns about the impact removing the threat of punishment would have on Ohio's drug courts. 

“Thankfully, the voters of Ohio have turned down Issue 1,” said Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who vocally opposed the measure. “Their no vote means that those before the court due to addiction can continue to take advantage of the programs, including drug court, that offer treatment, accountability and a road to recovery.”

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

Supporters of the measure declared victory, Tuesday evening, for getting the conversation started about criminal justice reform.

“Together we made sure that the insane reality of criminalizing poor people and people with addiction and mental illness was in the conversation and challenged,” said Demareo Cooper of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative in a letter to supporters. “We refused to allow this year’s election to ignore the crisis of addiction and mental illness faced by thousands of Ohioans.”

“We always knew that, win or lose, the Yes on Issue 1 campaign is the beginning, not the end,” said Dennis Willard, spokesperson for the Yes on Issue 1 campaign. “Our opponents may celebrate tonight, but tomorrow they will wake up with the same crisis on their hands, and not one step closer to real solutions.”

Meanwhile Paul Pfeifer, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Council, which opposed the measure, put out a letter looking forward to next steps.

“Undeniable are the barriers to meaningful employment and suitable housing when one acquires a felony conviction. For addicts those barriers represent a formula for failure in recovery,” he said. “Guidance from the judiciary for sensible next steps will be expected by a new governor and the General Assembly.”

Backers raised $9.8 million, plus another $1.4 million in in-kind support. Nearly $6 million of that money came from out of state non-profits, including Chan Zuckerberg Advocacy and the Tides Center. Less than $4,000 came from inside Ohio.

Opponents raised $1 million and most of it came from Ohioans for a Healthy Economy, a non-profit issue advocacy group.

Issue 1 proposed to convert felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession and drug use crimes to misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period; prohibit judges from sending people to prison if they violate probation with something other than a new crime; cut prison time for offenders who complete rehabilitation programs; and put money saved by fewer people going to prison into drug treatment and crime victim programs.

You can read the full text of Issue 1 here.

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