Pubdate: Tue, 01 Mar 2016
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Copyright: 2016 Dayton Daily News
Author: William T. Perkins


Opponents Say It's Time to Focus on Recovery.

As seizure rates and heroin-related deaths spike in Ohio, some 
lawmakers want stricter punishments for drug dealers.

But others argue that focusing on dealers simply perpetuates a failed 
40-year-long War on Drugs policy, and it's time to focus on recovery 
for addicts.

House Bill 171 would allow an individual to be labeled a "major drug 
offender" for carrying 100 grams of heroin - down from the current 
250 grams. The bill passed the House last year 82-16 and is now in 
Senate committee hearings.

The Office of the Ohio Public Defender and the ACLU of Ohio are 
against the measure, claiming it takes the focus off from preventive 
measures that might be more effective.

"What it shows is that the priority is the criminalization," said 
Kari Bloom, legislative liaison for the public defenders' office. 
"The first step that we're taking is putting more people in prison. 
. We don't have any other bills making movements toward addiction 
services. There isn't a counterpart being offered or considered."

Gary Daniels, the ACLU of Ohio's chief lobbyist, said that, in 
addition to ignoring prevention efforts, the measure exacerbates the 
problem of prison overcrowding.

He said it also fails to deter people from trafficking in heroin. 
Currently, the penalty for 50 to 249 grams of heroin is a 
first-degree felony, meriting between three and 11 years in prison. 
Possession of 250 grams or more carries a mandatory 11-year sentence. 
Making the harsher penalty more common, he argued, won't stop dealers 
from harboring large quantities of the drug.

"There seems to be this fantasy out there that if we lock up 'x' 
number of drug dealers that we've taken care of the problem," Daniels 
said. "At what point do we say, 'we've given this 40 years and it's 
not working'?"

Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said concerns about prison 
overcrowding are unfounded. According the the House's financial 
analysis of the bill, the change would lead to about three more 
"major drug offender" sentences per year who otherwise would have 
received a lesser sentence. Each of those offenders would cost the 
state $3,600 per year per offender.

But Bloom said those figures are based on current incarceration 
figures. It is hard to predict how many people will deal heroin in the future.

"And if there's only going to be three (a year), why does there need 
to be a bill in the first place?"
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom