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Ohio Senate OKs O’Brien’s drug possession bill

Reclassifies most nonviolent drug possession offenses

The Ohio Senate approved a bill, sponsored by state Sen. Sean J. O’Brien, that reclassifies most nonviolent drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

“After years of the failed ‘War on Drugs,’ we know that our current approach is not effective,” said O’Brien, D-Bazetta, who sponsored the bill with state Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson Township. “During committee (hearings), we heard extensive testimony from various experts — including law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors — and we now have a bill that will help us keep people struggling with addiction out of prison while punishing the right people — drug traffickers.”

The bill reclassifies fourth- and fifth-degree felony drug possession as unclassified misdemeanors.

This is for those charged with possessing small amounts of illegal drugs and prioritizes treatment for offenders, O’Brien said.

A person could be sentenced to up to one year in jail if a court deems the offender to be a threat to others under the bill.

The legislation also permits those convicted to have their criminal record sealed upon the successful completion of drug court or other intervention programs.

It creates new definitions for various levels of drug trafficking and retains exiting laws when the drug violation involves a sexual assault-enabling drug or fentanyl-related compounds, O’Brien said.

The bill strengthens drug-trafficking penalties if a person is convicted of intent to sell or distribute any amount of heroin.

O’Brien and Eklund introduced the bill in February 2019 as one of the state Senate’s top priorities, but it sat in the Senate Judiciary Committee for months. The committee voted on the bill Tuesday and the full Senate approved it 25-4.

It now heads to the House, which has scheduled only a few sessions during the next couple of months.

Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said the bill “is about being smart on crime and following policies that lead to not only a second chance for Ohioans battling addiction, but also to safer communities.”

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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