Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Ohio Issue 1: Drug treatment


Treatment-over-prison plan rejected

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would have put thousands of drug offenders into treatment programs instead of prison.

The drug-treatment amendment known as Issue 1 was defeated by a 2-to-1 ratio 67 percent to 33 percent.

The lopsided results mirrored recent polls that found voters turned off by the plan's $247 million, seven-year cost.

Issue 1 supporters argued their plan would save taxpayers a net $108 million in reduced prison and jail expenses. But most voters never heard that, seeing instead the $247 million highlighted in every ballot summary.

A proposed constitutional amendment, Issue 1 would have given thousands of nonviolent drug offenders the ability to choose treatment instead of prison. Similar initiatives passed in Arizona and California.

Gov. Bob Taft and his wife, Hope, held a news conference in Columbus to declare victory early in the evening. Mrs. Taft led a coalition of politicians, judges, prosecutors, police and drug-treatment officials in a statewide opposition campaign.

"We sent a message to a few people who thought they could buy Ohio with their money," Mrs. Taft said. "We're here to tell them Ohio is not for sale."

It was the first defeat for a trio of businessmen who had bankrolled similar drug-treatment initiatives in Arizona and California.

George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Sperling, three billionaires who believe the nation's war on drugs does more harm than good, spent roughly $1 million on a petition drive to put Issue 1 on the ballot.

Issue 1 supporters acknowleged defeat.

"They've won a small skirmish in a much larger battle that doesn't end tonight," said Ed Orlett, the Issue 1 campaign manager. "This time, they were able to confuse the issue."

Mr. Orlett practically guaranteed that the drug treatment amendment would return for the 2004 campaign.

Issue 1 opponents waged a campaign that included claims that the amendment would have taken vital decisions concerning treatment and jail time out of judges' hands. They also argued that the plan was no more than a first step toward decriminalizing drugs.

Some polls showed a majority of voters supported the concept of putting drug offenders into treatment, but not at the pricetag.

E-mail shunt@enquirer.com



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