Dave Yost opposes state Issue 1; Steve Dettelbach undecided

The Columbus Dispatch | Marty Schladen

Republican Attorney General candidate Dave Yost said Tuesday that Ohio drug laws need changes, but state Issue 1 is not the way to fix them.

Yost, who is currently state auditor, said the proposed state constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot would “create chaos” in the court system.

The measure would reclassify low-level felonies of possession of any drug, including fentanyl and heroin, to misdemeanors carrying no jail or prison time. Jail time is an option only on a third offense within two years.

Proponents say it’s a way to keep nonviolent drug offenders from behind bars and to free up resources for treatment of those suffering as part of Ohio’s opioid crisis. But Yost, a former Delaware County prosecutor, said the amendment would be counterproductive for several reasons.

Among them, he said, is that under Issue 1, first offenders could possess 40 doses of drugs such as heroin or LSD and only be liable for probation.

“There are too many cases where this really ought to be in front of a court,” Yost said.

He also said that defense attorneys will use the “Liberal Construction” provision in the ballot issue to tie up cases up indefinitely. That provision would require that the law be broadly interpreted in light of the fact that the preamble to Issue 1 says that “incarcerating users rather than by providing treatment poses a threat to public safety …”

Yost said if Issue 1 fails, it’s incumbent upon the General Assembly to “rationalize” the state’s existing drug laws.

“It’s insane that we treat possession and trafficking (of heroin) as the same offense,” he said. “I would escalate trafficking and deescalate possession.”

Yost’s Democratic opponent, former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach, hasn’t yet taken a position on Issue 1.

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