To the Editor:
I urge you to vote No on Issue 1. If passed, the measure will drastically reduce penalties for drug possession charges.
This sounds reasonable to many voters. I understand that the hype in favor of increasing treatment and reducing incarceration strikes many emotional chords and is appealing.
However, the actual text of Issue 1 makes it clearly the most dangerous proposition I have seen during my nearly forty-one years of combined experience as a public defender, prosecutor, felony trial judge, assistant attorney general, and appellate judge.
I volunteered and served as a drug court judge in felony court for eight years. I am elated when I talk with many of our graduates of the program as they successfully work and raise families in our community. Some left to attend universities. My interaction with these fellow citizens struggling with addiction was emotionally and physically draining for all of us. Their success was hard fought. The threat of immediate jail sanction was an integral tool and compelling motivator in their recovery. Many people I eventually ordered to be incarcerated have thanked me for saving their lives because now they realize that their addiction was out of control causing them to be a danger to themselves.
The drug epidemic in Ohio has many roots. As you probably know, the newest and most compelling threat is traffickers working for Mexican drug cartels. Carrying modest amounts of cash, they peddle cheap heroin/fentanyl ordered by phone in the model of pizza delivery to the doorstep of homes. They are young, unarmed, modestly dressed, and polite. Smiling with college kid charisma, they have flooded our neighborhoods with these drugs. They are a persuasive and sophisticated sales force that is savvy in exploiting loopholes in our laws.
Law enforcement officers report that 85 percent of all Mexican cartel delivery traffickers of heroin/fentanyl possess less than 20 grams at a time. A fatal dose of fentanyl is 2 milligrams, about the size of four grains of salt. 20 grams can kill 10,000 people. According to a study cited in a recent Ohio Supreme Court case, in the first two months of 2017 approximately 90 percent of unintentional overdose deaths in 25 Ohio counties involved fentanyl or its analogs. The current maximum penalty for felony possession of up to 20 grams of fentanyl is 12 months in prison but Issue 1 will drastically reduce the penalty.
Under Issue 1 the penalty for possessing this amount will be changed to a misdemeanor with no possible jail time permitted until after three convictions within a period of 18 months. After the third conviction within 18 months the maximum penalty under Issue 1 will be 6 months detention in a local jail. As many as 30,000 drug users could die from overdoses from the fentanyl carried by one cartel courier before he is allowed to serve the first day of his maximum 6 month jail sentence.
It is obvious that if Issue 1 passes, our state will be helpless to defend itself from the onslaught. It is clear to me that if Issue 1 passes, Ohio will be the favorite destination for Mexican cartel drug traffickers in the United States. Our opioid epidemic will be worsened by Issue 1.
Please join me and the members other legal professional organizations in voting against Issue 1.
— Jeffrey M. Welbaum
Judge, Second District Court of Appeals of Ohio, and Troy resident