Though Issue 1, Ohio’s drug crime constitutional amendment, failed at the ballot box in November, Ohio Senate President has started taking steps to make good on his promise to reform drug laws. Though he opposed the failed amendment, he had claimed he would work toward changing the laws and introduced Senate Bill 341 in furtherance of that.

Proponents of Issue 1 see the empty bill as a positive step, hoping it will reduce prison populations and improve treatment for addicts. By introducing an empty bill, he has opened up the topic for public discussion and the ability to reintroduce the bill next year with specifics. Among other things, the senate president, along with others, is examining reducing most fourth and fifth degree drug felonies to misdemeanors so the judge can sentence the defendant to drug court and to allow those who have been incarcerated or are on probation for those newly classified claims to petition the court to reduce their sentences.

They are also considering allowing individuals to seal records for those newly reclassified crimes, allowing them to rebuild their lives and move forward. They will also examine the possibility of removing mandatory sentencing for all remaining felony drug possession offenses except for major drug offenses and possession of fentanyl. With the 15th highest rate of prison population in the country, these measures might go a long way in reducing the prison population.

While the state is battling an opioid epidemic, defendants who would have benefited from drug addiction treatment have ended up incarcerated. While Ohio residents await the law to change, it might be possible to discuss alternative sentences for drug possession with an experienced attorney so someone accused of the offense can get the help they require.