Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Hagan will back drug treatment ballot issue

By Debra Jasper djasper@enquirer.com
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Hagan has endorsed a ballot issue that would force the state to offer treatment instead of prison to non-violent drug offenders.

        Mr. Hagan said drug dealers and violent criminals belong in prison, but nonviolent first and second-time drug users do not.

        “We all know someone who has struggled with addiction. These are individuals, who, if given the help they need, can once again become productive citizens,” Mr. Hagan said.

        Mr. Hagan's position is in stark contrast to the position of Gov. Bob Taft, who is helping lead the campaign against the measure. The ballot issue asks voters to change the constitution and put eligible, nonviolent drug offenders into addiction treatment programs. Supporters say treatment is a better alternative to prisons or legalized drugs. Bolstered by victories with similar measures in Arizona and California, they say the support of people like Mr. Hagan only increases their chances of winning in Ohio.

        Opponents - including Mr. Taft and a statewide coalition of mayors, prosecutors, police and drug treatment officials - say the initiative will help decriminalize drugs, sabotage state drug courts and stop judges from punishing offenders who skip treatment.

        A Cleveland Plain Dealer poll released Sunday shows a majority of voters oppose the measure, with 55 percent of the 805 people contacted saying they planned to vote no on Issue 1. The poll showed 30 percent planned to support it and the remainder is undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

        Mr. Orlett said the poll showed Issue 1 backers must make it clear to voters that the program will save more money than it spends. The ballot language points out that the program carries a seven-year, $247 million price tag and tells voters it would seal criminal records for people who complete treatment.

        He said proponents should have fought harder to convince the board that writes the ballot language to explain that treating people can save up to $60 million, since it costs $23,000 a year to imprison people and about $3,500 to give them treatment.

        Jenny Camper, spokeswoman for Ohioans Against Unsafe Drug Laws, the group spearheading the campaign to defeat Issue 1, said the polls show that once people realize what Issue 1 is about they oppose it.

        “When Ohioans see ... the fact that this would appropriate $247 million without providing a new revenue source, they vote no,” she said.


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