Initiatives Heat Up II: Storm Clouds over Ohio 8/16/02

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When the Campaign for New Drug Policies (http://www.drugreform.org) managed to win a series of drug reform initiatives in the Western US, that was one thing. But now, with CNDP bringing "treatment not jail" initiatives into the Midwestern heartland of rock-ribbed Republicanism, the opposition is mounting a strong counterattack. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and first lady Hope Taft led early -- and possibly illegal -- efforts to derail the Ohio initiative (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/239.html#ohioelection), and since the Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies (http://www.ohiodrugreform.org) announced last week that it would file roughly twice the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot, virtually ensuring that Ohio voters will vote on the initiative this fall, Ohio state officials have been lining up to denounce the measure.

The Ohio initiative would amend the state constitution so that nonviolent drug users or possessors would be offered drug treatment instead of a jail sentence. If defendants opted for treatment, criminal proceedings would be stayed pending completion of treatment, which could last up to 18 months. If defendants completed the program, criminal charges would be dismissed. The initiative also mandates that sentences for drug use or possession be no more than 90 days if a person chooses not to enter treatment or fails to complete a treatment program.

That's too much for the Ohio criminal justice establishment. On August 6, Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery led off the week's denunciations, calling the initiative "a systematic and dangerous attempt to dismantle the checks and balances that are embedded in our criminal justice system," at a Columbus news conference. "The war on drugs is not being won right now," Montgomery admitted, but then added, "I can tell you this will certainly not win the war."

Joining Montgomery at the podium was Democratic prosecutor Lynn Grimshaw of Scioto County, who said the bill carried a hidden agenda. "It's basically a decriminalization bill," he fulminated.

Unsurprisingly, Ohio prison director Reginald Williams also joined the chorus of naysayers last week, arguing that a large number of Ohio prisoners have drug problems. But his credibility is undermined by self-interest; 25% of Ohio state employees work for the prison system. Ohio foes of the initiative, led by Gov. Taft and his wife, Attorney General Montgomery, and a statewide coalition of drug court judges, prosecutors, drug treatment professionals and police organizations have formed Ohio Against Unsafe Drug Laws (http://www.unsafedruglaws.org) where they urge defeat of the initiative on the grounds that it would undercut drug courts, would not require drug testing, includes other nonviolent crimes committed by drug users and limits drug possession sentences to 90 days.

Initiative foes promise a tough and expensive battle, but CNDP and the Ohio Campaign are unfazed. "We see Ohio Against Unsafe Drug Laws as an us versus them coalition built by the government," said CNDP's Dave Fratello. "We hope we knew what we were doing when we chose to go into two Midwest states with Republican governors [the other is Michigan; see below]. Winning in either or both of these states will be a great victory. We've invited serious opposition and they've been active and will stay active, but that just enhances our credibility if we win," he told DRCNet.

"We went into this with 65% support in the polls -- stronger than where we were with Prop 36 in California at this point," said Fratello, "and while we expect foes to engage in serious fundraising to defeat the initiative, we are ready. The million dollar question is whether we can raise the money to get our message out on TV. The other side is soliciting donations for TV ads, but if we can get our ads on TV, I think we will hold our own." CNDP and the Ohio Campaign have a $3 million budget, but that includes expenses incurred during signature gathering as well.

Fratello worries that the measure's ballot summary could be off-putting to voters. The summary says the measure will cost $247 million over seven years, said Fratello, "and that could be a strike against us. But the best thing we have going is that people just naturally understand that treatment is cheaper than jail."

The Ohio battlelines are drawn, and the next three months promise to see the charges and countercharges flying.

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Issue #250, 8/16/02 A Message to Our Readers: 250 Issues of The Week Online | US Seeks Civil Injunction Against Lakota Hemp Grower, Supporters Celebrate Successful Harvest | DRCNet Interview: Jack Cole, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition | Initiatives Heat Up I: Tumultuous Week in Nevada, Cops Flip-Flop on Endorsement, Resort to Bald-Faced Lies | Initiatives Heat Up II: Storm Clouds over Ohio | Initiatives Heat Up III: Michigan Governor Flails and Fails in Anti-Initiative Move | Initiatives Heat Up IV: DC "Treatment Not Jail" Initiative Makes November Ballot, Excludes Marijuana, Heroin, Psychedelics | Initiatives Heat Up V: Arizona to Vote on Marijuana Decrim, Much More | Initiatives Heat Up VI: DC Board of Elections Rejected Thousands of Valid Signatures, MPP Challenging | Newsbrief: Afghan Heroin Labs Reappear | Newsbrief: Grateful Dead Reunion Just Like Old Days -- Many Arrested | Newsbrief: NJ Bans Devices That Defeat Drug Tests | Newsbrief: East Europe Teens Catching Up to West in Drug Use | Newsbrief: DARE Axed in Cincy -- Dayton Next? | Newsbrief: Canada Judge Rips DEA Law Violations | Newsbrief: NORML Not Allowed at Indiana State Fair | Newsbrief: Infected Needles, Alcoholism Lead to Increased Liver Damage, Deaths in England, Study Finds | Legislative Alerts: Rave Bill, Medical Marijuana, Higher Education Act Drug Provision | The Reformer's Calendar
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