Thursday, October 17, 2002

Nation's drug czar opposes Issue 1

By Nathan Leaf
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - The nation's drug czar says a statewide ballot initiative meant to reform Ohio drug policy would actually hurt the state's efforts to curb drug addiction.

Speaking in Columbus Wednesday, John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, joined what he called growing opposition in Ohio to the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

If Issue 1 succeeds, it would force judges to send thousands of eligible non-violent drug offenders to treatment instead of jail.

"It will weaken the tools that the (courts) have to help get people into treatment," Mr. Walters said.

Mr. Walters applauded Ohio's drug courts as frontrunners in the war on drugsBut he said the proposal did not belong in the state's constitution.

"I would not, in this budget environment, put in a constitutional amendment that says this trumps everything else," he said.

Ed Orlett, director of the Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies, the group supporting Issue 1, said the proposal would not take power out of the hands of drug-court judges.

"Issue 1 clearly recognizes that sanctions are an important part of the treatment process," Mr. Orlett said.

He added that the fight against drug addiction is failing in United States.

"We need new tools in the drug war," Mr. Orlett said. "Incarceration purely is not working, people come out worse than when they went in."

Issue 1 has slipped in the polls recently as its opponents have mounted a strong campaign to defeat the proposal. Gov. Bob Taft is among the opponents.

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