Monday, July 08, 2002

Tafts begin anti-drug proposal campaign

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — A proposal to change the way Ohio handles first-time drug offenders pits Gov. Bob Taft against three billionaires pushing a drug initiative for the November ballot.

        Taft, first lady Hope Taft, Toledo mayor Jack Ford and other opponents of the initiative planned to begin their official campaign against the proposal Monday.

        Taft says passage of the issue, modeled on similar efforts in Arizona and California, would undermine current drug treatment efforts.

        The Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies proposed the constitutional amendment, which would require judges to sentence nonviolent first-time drug offenders to treatment instead of prison. Currently a judge has the option to do either.

        If the group gathers 335,421 valid signatures of Ohio voters by early August, the issue would go on the ballot in November. Taft and his wife, Hope, a drug-prevention activist, have promised to work against it.

        Billionaires John Sperling — founder of the University of Phoenix — New York philanthropist George Soros and Ohio insurance executive Peter Lewis have spent millions the last four years backing ballot initiatives that they say collectively amount to a referendum on the drug war.

        With their vote on Proposition 36 last November, Californians decided to send thousands of first- and second-time drug users to community treatment programs instead of jail.

        Colorado and Nevada approved using marijuana for medical purposes, and Oregon and Utah restricted government seizures of drug offenders' property.

        Taft says Ohio's 48 drug courts, which specialize in the treatment of early offenders, are a better alternative than the proposed ballot issue.

        He says Ohio's drug laws are effective because of their “carrot and stick” approach that allows judges flexibility in sentencing offenders.

        The drug initiative would save taxpayers the cost of housing nonviolent offenders in prisons, according to Edward Orlett, manager for the Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies.

        Orlett said Ohio's drug courts send too many first-time offenders to jail, where it costs more than $20,000 a year to house them.


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- Tafts begin anti-drug proposal campaign
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