One-time political rivals are now working together to revive the best part of a failed ballot issue to fight drug addiction in Ohio.
Last month, the Drug and Criminal Justice Policies Initiative, also known as Issue 1, was shot down by voters, but now Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien and Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein say it can be salvaged. The pair were once political rivals as then-city council president Klein, a Democrat, sought to unseat O’Brien for county prosecutor. Both believe there were problems with Issue 1 but they also both believe the ballot initiative had a lot of ideas worth saving.
“In looking at Issue 1 on the ballot, I think we both concluded that it was something that shouldn’t be enshrined in our constitution,” O’Brien said. “[We] decided to work together … with the idea that once it was defeated, we could move forward with some of the good ideas that were behind it.”
Klein said he hopes they can bring those good ideas not only to Columbus and Franklin County but to the entire state.
“Issue 1, in my opinion, had some flaws that I think were highlighted during the gubernatorial campaign and the campaign to defeat Issue 1, but the reality is the status quo as it relates to drug laws is just simply not working,” Klein said.
Klein said the state needs a system that favors rehabilitation over incarceration for drug offenses and to stop making mental health issues like drug addiction felonies.
“People need hope and opportunity and we can start by amending our drug laws to make a difference in people’s life,” he said.
O’Brien said that while he doesn’t want to see something like Issue 1 become part of the state constitution, there are things he would like to see lawmakers take action on.
“Possession of small amounts of serious drugs, even in small amounts is a felony, and we handle most of those in our drug court here now. It shouldn’t be handled as a felony in my view,” he explained. “They should be reclassified to a misdemeanor.”
O’Brien believes that reclassifying possession, officials can still get offenders to comply with court orders like going to rehab, staying away from drugs, finding a job and going back to school.
You can watch Colleen Marshall’s full interview with O’Brien and Klein above.