Bills would reduce punishment for low-level drug possession

Published: Jul. 7, 2019 at 10:19 PM EDT
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Judge Mark Kerenyi started a drug court in Washington County back in January. That system has already prioritized treatment as the effective tool opposed to jail for helping addicts find recovery. He says these new proposals change the mentality to create a presumption of treatment instead of incarceration.

"So right now, you have a defendant that they request treatment, they apply for it, they have to provide a treatment plan," he said, "then it's up to me basically to decide whether or not to do treatment rather than a conviction. Here what they're trying to do is make a presumption for it. So if I decide against treatment, then I would have to state my reasons why I'm denying treatment."

The Senate version brings up a debated proposal from last year’s controversial Issue One that would reduce low level drug felonies to misdemeanors. It's something Kerenyi says is a slippery slope.

"The problem with that is you take away consequences and I think a lot of these addicts need the consequences to get treatment," he added.

The bill is also looking at making it easier for low-level offenders to seal their records upon completing treatment or a sentence. Kerenyi believes that would help to remove the stigma some feel and help them return to normal life.

"You know I think some employers accepted the fact that some of these felonies aren’t as serious as others," he noted, "and they will hire people with felonies."

"I think people are accepting the fact that drug addiction is a disease and that we are going toward treatment and I think the whole state is going toward that."

Bills working their way through the Ohio Legislature would reduce punishment for some drug crimes while favoring treatment over automatic prosecution.

A proposal passed by the House last month expands the use of a program allowing judges to order treatment instead of prosecution for defendants facing low-level drug charges.

The legislation would also make it easier for Ohioans to seal records involving low-level nonviolent and non-sexual offenses to help them move forward with their lives.

A Senate bill would reduce low-level drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and also allow treatment instead of prosecution.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor supports treatment over prosecution in appropriate cases. She tells the Akron Beacon Journal that Ohio can't arrest and incarcerate its way out of the addiction epidemic.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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