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Cuyahoga County Drug Court Judge Opposes Issue 1

One of Cuyahoga County’s drug court judges joined Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine in opposing opposing state Issue 1, which would reduce penalties for drug possession.

Judge Joan Synenberg, who presides over one of the county’s two drug dockets, spoke alongside DeWine at a campaign event Monday.

Drug courts put defendants on a plan to receive treatment in exchange for having their case dismissed. Fifty-five counties in Ohio have at least one drug docket.

In Cuyahoga County, defendants are eligible for drug court if they’re facing third-, fourth- or fifth-degree non-trafficking felony drug charges. Issue 1 would turn those felony-4 and -5s into misdemeanors.

Synenberg said those defendants would no longer appear in her courtroom—they’d end up in municipal court, not county common pleas court.

“We all want the same thing: We want people to have prosperous lives, this is another way to do it,” Synenberg said. “But I don’t know even how drug court would continue to exist with passage of Issue 1.”

Dennis Willard, a spokesman for the Yes On Issue 1 campaign, said judges would still be able to send defendants to get help for addiction.

“Drug possession will still be a crime—a misdemeanor, in which judges can then send people to treatment programs,” Willard said.

He said the proposed constitutional amendment would direct more money toward treatment programs.  

“We know that incarceration does not work. It does not cure drug addiction. Treatment does,” he said.

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