A bill that would impose stricter penalties on anyone caught “recklessly” dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of an addiction recovery center advanced through its first committee Thursday.
The legislation, Senate Bill 55, would subject a person to the stricter penalties if that person deals drugs within the vicinity with reckless disregard for being in such a location. An amendment introduced by Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, the Democratic ranking member, that would have instead required that prosecutors prove that the drug trafficker knew that he was in such a vicinity, failed on a 7-5 vote.
The bill, Leland argued, is intended to give stricter penalties to someone who traffics near an addiction treatment center as a way to prey on vulnerable people. He said the language, as it is currently written, could give the stricter penalties to people who had no intention of preying on vulnerable people or being in such a vicinity, but simply did not know that it was nearby.
Leland said that if the committee doesn’t clearly distinguish between a regular trafficker and a person seeking to prey on vulnerable people, then it should simply increase the penalty for everyone.
In testimony, Niki Clum, a legislative liaison at the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, made a similar argument. She said many people traffic drugs to pay for their own drug habits and that the legislation could lead to them getting stricter penalties even when they had no intention of preying on someone in a vulnerable state.
If a person is waiting outside the door of an addiction treatment facility, targeting people for drug deals, it is very different from someone conducting a drug deal 999 feet from an addiction center with no knowledge of its location, Clum said.
Rep. James Butler, R-Oakwood, challenged Leland’s and Clum’s arguments, claiming that the “reckless” standard offers enough protections relating to intent. He said that it would be “incredibly difficult” for prosecutors to prove that a drug trafficker knew he was within 1,000 feet of an addiction treatment center, which would allow traffickers to prey on vulnerable people without having more serious consequences.
The Ohio ACLU opposed the entirety of the bill.
“Legislators often bemoan the number of people behind bars in Ohio,” Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the Ohio ACLU, said. “Yet, they fail to realize it is their own actions, via the numerous bills they pass to create new crimes and enhance sentences, that is the driving factor behind Ohio’s mass incarceration crisis. If Ohio legislators are truly serious about ending the thoroughly failed War on Drugs, they must reject harmful and destructive bills like SB 55.”