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Senate Bill 1 faces controversy over new sentencing for fentanyl possession

Ohio Senate Bill 1 is changing how traffickers and users of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs are penalized.

The bill was introduced in January 2017 and passed in February 2017, according to the Ohio Legislature website. Gov. John Kasich passed the bill into law on August 2018.

Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, sponsored the bill. LaRose said fentanyl is a significant contributor to the opioid crisis in Ohio, in a report from The News-Herald

In order to help those with an opioid addiction, Senate Bill 1 gives those found possessing small amounts of fentanyl alternative options. Ohioans convicted of fentanyl possession of trace amounts can opt for treatment rather than jail time.

The bill also aims to be harsher on the traffickers of drugs rather than the users. Prison sentences could be extended up to eight years in extreme cases. 

LaRose said that Senate Bill 1 isn’t the complete answer to the opioid epidemic, but it is a necessary tool in combating the problem.

Criticism has faced the bill throughout the process of its implementation.

The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, of Ohio addressed its concerns with the bill during a hearing in January 2018. ACLU of Ohio chief lobbyist Gary Daniels testified about the ACLU of Ohio’s concerns with the proposed bill.

“Ohioans should be under no illusion (that Senate Bill) 1 will meaningfully affect the overall problem of fentanyl use, abuse, possession and trafficking in their communities due to the bill’s exclusive focus on severe punishment and prison time,” Daniels said in the testimony.

Daniels addressed how the bill would further pack already crowded state prisons due to harsher sentencing, pointing out Ohio prisons have been seriously overcrowded for decades.

The bill seeks to specifically change sentencing for fentanyl-related drug offenses. This means the newly implemented policies will affect both substances containing 100 percent fentanyl, and any substance with traces of fentanyl. The cases are treated as equal, something Daniels also brought up in his testimony. 

“So, what may have been a lower-level drug case is now much more serious because somewhere along the supply chain, someone decided to lace another substance with fentanyl,” Daniels said in the testimony. 

No solution was proposed for this issue, Daniels said in the testimony. Some proponents of the bill had the same concern. 

The bill will come into effect Oct. 31.


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