For decades, America’s “war on drugs” has essentially gone in only one direction: ever harsher punishments for those convicted of drug crimes. In recent years, however, efforts have been made at the state and federal levels to treat drug abuse as more of a public health issue than a criminal justice one.
At the beginning of 2021, Ohio legislators addressed this problem in a significant way with the passage of House Bill 1, which was signed and enacted by Gov. DeWine in early January. HB1, which has bipartisan support, expands access to treatment for drug defendants who seek it and allows drug offenders to have certain conviction records sealed after their sentence has been served. This, in turn, removes barriers to employment, which can stand in the way of full rehabilitation and reintegration.
According to news sources, defendants can apply for intervention if drug or alcohol abuse was a factor in the crime(s) they committed. Once the defendant applies, a judge is required to hold a hearing on the matter. Advocates of the bill say that this compromise expands access to treatment while also preserving the discretion of judges in individual cases.
HB1 also addresses criminal records associated with drug offenses. Under the bill, those convicted of fourth-degree and fifth-degree offenses can apply to have their convictions sealed to improve their chances of finding employment after serving their sentence. Criminal records are a major roadblock for individuals who have paid their debt and are trying to reintegrate into society. They can make it considerably harder to find a job, get approved for housing, get accepted into higher education or access federal student aid.
This law is by no means perfect. There are critics who argue that it should also allow for sealing of felony convictions, which carry a much higher stigma. But HB1 is among the largest criminal justice reform efforts to be passed in recent memory, and many see it as a major step in the right direction.
If you are facing criminal charges related to drug or alcohol offenses, contesting the charges with the help of an attorney is often the best way to protect your future. But if that is not possible, you may be able to mitigate the consequences you face by seeking treatment under HB1. In either case, please discuss your legal options with an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area.