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State bill could lower penalties for some drug crimes

A bill under consideration in the Ohio senate could radically change the way drug crimes are prosecuted in the state.

Known as SB 3, the measure is designed to reclassify certain types of drug crimes as low-level offenses. Advocates say that SB 3 will lead to less severe penalties for people convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses. If the measure becomes law, they say, courts and prisons will be less burdened by relatively low-level criminal charges, leading to increased resources for dealing with high-level drug trafficking and violent crime.

However, critics of the measure say it will lead to new problems. Some judges, prosecutors and police have argued that, by reclassifying certain drug crimes as low-level offenses, SB 3 will merely shift prosecution of these crimes from state courts to municipal courts, which do not have the resources to deal with these cases.

Among other changes, SB 3 would allow people convicted of possession of small amounts of illegal drugs to face lower-level felony charges. Proponents say this would take the emphasis off addicts and other individuals users, so that the criminal justice system could concentrate on higher-level drug trafficking operations. However, critics say the changes go too far and would actually lower the charges against some drug traffickers.

The bill has been working its way through the legislature since February, and it's too early to say whether it will become law, or what its effect will be on the criminal justice system. However, anyone who is facing drug charges should be aware of the debate, and how it may affect their outcome.

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