Saturday, August 31, 2002

New drug policy likely on ballot

By The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Backers of a proposal that would require judges to impose treatment instead of jail for first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders likely have collected enough signatures to ensure a spot on the Nov. 5 ballot, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell's office said Friday.

        Of the 765,737 signatures that the Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies submitted on Aug. 7, there were 418,200 valid signatures of Ohio voters, Mr. Blackwell's office said. The backers needed 335,422, or 10 percent of the vote in the 1998 election for governor, to qualify.

        The issue's status won't become official until Mr. Blackwell certifies the statewide ballot next week, spokesman Carlo LoParo said.

        The constitutional amendment would require judges to impose treatment instead of prison for first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders who request it. Judges can now order treatment, but retain the option of prison time.

        Backers say the amendment will treat inmates whose only crime is using drugs, and the state will save money by keeping them out of prison. Ohioans Against Unsafe Drug Laws, a group opposed to the issue, says it will undermine the work of Ohio's drug-court system and put felons out on the street.


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