Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is adding her voice in opposition to Issue 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot, saying its passage would "have catastrophic consequences for our state."
The proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution would reclassify low-level felony charges of possession any drug, including fentanyl and heroin, to misdemeanors carrying no jail or prison time.
Those currently incarcerated on such charges also would be permitted to ask judges to reduce their felony drug possession charges to misdemeanors to allow them to be freed.
Advocates portray Issue 1 as diverting minor drug offenders from prisons to local treatment programs where they can be more effectively treated.
But O’Connor wrote in a statement that passage of Issue 1 would leave Ohio with some of the most lenient drug crime laws in the nation and tie judges’ hands from imposing needed punishment.
Since the "carrot" of drug treatment instead of incarceration would be eroded by Issue 1 for those charged with possessing drugs, its passage would eliminate Ohio’s effective drug courts, she wrote.
And the issue contains language that could make Ohio a haven for drug distributors to sell their wares, O’Connor said.
Possession of 19 grams of deadly fentanyl (when 20 grams triggers a felony) — enough to kill 10,000 people — would land a dealer only a misdemeanor conviction and probation, she wrote.
"This is unconscionable. Drug dealers would be incentivized to distribute fentanyl in amounts less than 20 grams so those caught possessing it would avoid incarceration," the chief justice said.
"Issue 1 may be well-intentioned in design, but its passage would gravely endanger Ohioans. It would be devastating in effect."
Secretary of State Jon Husted announced this week that Issue 1 will be officially titled on the ballot as an issue "To Reduce Penalties for Crimes of Obtaining, Possessing and Using Illegal Drugs"
Groups representing Ohio’s prosecutors and common pleas court judges also are opposing Issue 1.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray has endorsed Issue 1, while his Republican opponent, Attorney General Mike DeWine, opposes the measure.
The Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities Campaign, which is behind Issue 1, raised $4.1 million this year through July, according to campaign finance reports.
Facebook co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz contributed $1 million each through groups they are affiliated with, as did billionaire George Soros.