Expert Commentaries on Issue 1

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) is committed to enhancing understanding and debate over the multiple provisions and potential impacts of Issue 1. In addition to our panel series and resource page, DEPC has solicited short commentaries from a wide array of researchers, policymakers, and advocates concerning both the substantive particulars of Issue 1 and the effort to advance criminal justice reform through a ballot initiative.

Commentaries will be published below as received, and DEPC welcomes submissions for this on-line forum from anyone eager to share thoughtful or critical perspectives on any substantive aspects of Issue 1 or on any broader issues related to using direct democracy to pursue significant legal and policy reform.  We prefer submissions of no more than 2000 words, with on-line links to any references rather than footnotes.  Submissions should be sent to



Issue 1: Explaining the Narrative of Carrots and Sticks

Taleed El-Sabawi, JD, Doctoral student at The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The support of the “stick” and its use in drug courts is part of a broader commitment of law enforcement interest groups to support a criminal justice approach to addressing the nation’s drug problem, an approach that is defined by the use of the criminal justice system to deter bad behavior through the threat of punishment. In my previous analysis of congressional hearing testimony prior to the enactment of federal legislation to address the opioid crisis, I found that despite the dominance of the idea that problem drug use is a public health issue, law enforcement agencies continued to emphasize the need for the use of the criminal justice system to addressing the opioid crisis. This commitment endured despite the international trend moving away from the utilization of the criminal justice approach to address problem drug use and the acknowledgement by the international community that a public health approach makes for better drug policy.

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Issue 1: What It Tells Us About the Purposes of Punishment for Drug Possession

Jelani Jefferson Exum, JD, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law

What is most exciting to me about Ohio Issue 1 is that, if it passes, it would tell us clearly that voters believe rehabilitation should be the purpose of drug possession sentencing. Rehabilitation is a theory of punishment that focuses on using punishment in order to transform the offender into a healthier, law abiding person. One might think that rehabilitation is always the purpose of punishment, but that is not the case. Most criminal codes recognize other purposes of punishment:  deterrence (punishing the offender in order to stop that offender or other offenders from committing the same offense), incapacitation (punishing the dangerous offender in order to keep him and his dangerous ways out of society), and retribution (punishing the offender based on the level of their moral blameworthiness). Until October 29, 2018, the Ohio Revised Code recognizes two purposes of punishment as the overriding purposes in felony cases: incapacitation and retribution.

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Issue 1: Individuals Suffering From Substance Use Disorder Need Treatment, Not Prisons

Barbara (“Basia”) Andraka-Christou, J.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Health Management & Informatics, University of Central Florida

I fully support Issue 1. As a health services and health policy researcher who focuses on substance use disorder treatment issues, I am excited that Ohio, which has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country, is leading the way in common sense policy-making. Rather than a felony, Issue 1 would make obtainment, use of drugs, and possession of drugs no more than a misdemeanor. This change would do more than save millions of dollars in tax payer money – it will help destigmatize a deadly health condition: substance use disorder (SUD). Though not all individuals who obtain, use or possess drugs have an SUD, individuals with SUD are overrepresented within the criminal justice system.

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Issue 1: Addressing Past Injustices and Harms to Communities of Color

Dr. Marcus Board Jr., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University

Whether it passes or fails, Ohio Issue 1 will have a heavy impact on Ohioans in general and Black Ohioans specifically. As a political scientist studying political behavior, public opinion, and histories of oppression, the war on drugs – at both the federal level and in the state of Ohio – is among the more obvious ways that the state reinforces racial and gender forms of domination. The issue of mass incarceration is no longer considered a conspiracy theory or speculative hyperbole. All evidence points to the use of the criminal justice system – from policing, to probation, to bail, to courts, to lawyers, to prisons – as a means to create jobs. Moreover, targeting of communities of color means these communities won’t have access to these jobs. Furthermore, targeting more vulnerable community members means they won’t have access to jobs, and won’t have the means to defend themselves against this form of domination.

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Issue 1: A Policy to Address Ohio’s Drug Epidemics, Present and Past

Daniel Skinner, Ph.D., and Berkeley Franz, Ph.D., Assistant Professors in the Department of Social Medicine at Ohio University, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine

When we first began editorial work on Not Far from Me: Stories of Opioids and Ohio, it quickly became clear that our book would be about much more than addiction. The point of the collection is simple: to provide a forum for Ohioans across the state, from various walks of life, to tell their stories. Yet, though the idea was straightforward, the process of compiling it opened us to the complexities of our contributors’ lives. Addiction is not only a medical condition, but reflects and is intensified by difficult social problems. Our contributors’ perspectives range from reflections on the greed and opportunism of pharmaceutical companies to the experience of consulting with health care professionals whose pain management strategies inadvertently led to years of addiction after surgeries, sports injuries, and wisdom teeth extraction. They tell us of the challenges of being teachers, nurses, mayors, and parents in communities where addiction has become widespread.

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