ELYRIA — Only a week before Ohioans go to the polls over Issue 1, a possible constitutional amendment that could change how felony drug charges are prosecuted and the consequences of those crimes, a group of people in recovery publicly is opposing the measure.
About a dozen people, mostly residents of Oberlin’s Alpha House sober residential living program and their supporters, stood Tuesday afternoon on the southeast corner of Ely Square downtown, protesting in opposition of the proposed constitutional amendment.
“Issue 1, vote no! Issue 1, vote no!” they chanted, waving neon-colored signs in the chilly evening air.
Issue 1 would reduce many felony drug possession crimes to misdemeanors, eliminate jail or prison as consequences until a third offense in a two-year period, forbid judges from sending offenders to jail or prison for noncriminal probation violations, and allow prisoners to work toward reducing their sentences by up to 25 percent, except in cases of murder, rape or child molestation.
Those braving the cold Tuesday said Issue 1 would “gut” court-based and court-ordered recovery programs while overwhelming the system, probation and police departments with misdemeanor drug cases. Offenders also wouldn’t be held accountable, face serious consequences for their actions or be given opportunities for supervised rehabilitation, they said.
Rally organizer Nicole Walmsley, a recovering heroin addict who works with police departments, state legislators and recovery agencies to improve understanding and access to recovery, and Alpha House director and co-founder Brian Wade brought the men from Alpha House downtown to urge passing motorists to vote no on the issue.
Wade, whose program houses 24 men in recovery, held a sign saying “Issue 1 is a lie, vote no.”
The amendment will “literally destroy” recovery courts like the one in Lorain County and similar courts in more than a dozen other counties in the state, he said, by taking power out of a judge’s hands to place defendants in court-ordered treatment.
Recovery court has helped his residents “so much,” Wade said, pointing to the men lined up on the sidewalk. Passing Issue 1 would “hurt people coming through our program” who need organization and structure, he said.
Letting offenders out of prison early also will “overwhelm the probation department” and increase the load on local police and courts, Wade said.
“It hurts Ohio, and hurts everything we’ve built in the last five, 10, 20 years,” he said. “We gotta stand up and take a stand against this.”
C.J. Marcano, who graduates the Alpha House program Thursday, wearing an “Akron Say No to Dope” baseball cap, said Issue 1 is not needed because recovery and rehab programs already exist for that purpose.
The Akron native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, whose parents live in Lorain County, said he was eligible for multiple court-based or court-ordered treatment and probation options after a felony arrest for breaking and entering.
Those opportunities and Alpha House helped save his life, he said, offering job training, financial and spiritual counseling and “a safe environment” in which to recover.
A spokesman for the Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities Campaign, the main backer of Issue 1, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Marcano said he intends to become an addiction counselor and help his “brothers” who are struggling with addiction. He said he wants to give fellow addicts that same chance, but also to realize the consequences that could face them in the legal system.
“I’ve got to work on me in my time,” Marcano said.