Drug Policy

Cuyahoga County’s Costly War on Drugs


Nearly 20 percent of Ohio’s inmates come from Cuyahoga County, meaning that Cuyahoga Country residents are severely over-represented in state prisons. Much of this is due to biased enforcement of drug-related crimes, based on race and geography.

On June 16, 2011, the ACLU of Ohio released “Overcharging, Overspending, Overlooking: Cuyahoga County’s Costly War on Drugs“. The report was made possible with support from the Drug Policy Alliance. It looks at the impact these policies have had on Cuyahoga County, and echoes a 2008 report commissioned by Citizens for a Safe and Fair Cleveland.

Although whites use and sell drugs at a similar rate to people of color, African Americans in Cuyahoga County are more likely than whites to be convicted of a felony drug offense. Suburban and out-of-town whites are more likely to receive a misdemeanor plea deal and access to diversion programs.

The ACLU of Ohio has focused on reducing disparities in Cuyahoga County through Citizens for a Safe and Fair Cleveland, a coalition that works for unbiased law enforcement and judicial equity for drug laws.

In 2008, the coalition found that many people of color in Cleveland were charged with felonies simply for having residue on paraphernalia. In other areas of the county, similar crimes were prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The coalition successfully lobbied Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson to change the city’s procedure for handling drug paraphernalia cases to reflect those followed by greater Cuyahoga County.