HB 4 seeks to change how the weight of cocaine is measured for sentencing purposes.
On March 6, 2017, upon reconsideration of its initial decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State v. Gonzales that individuals could be sentenced not only for the weight of any illegal drug in their possession, but also any non-drug fillers, additives, or mixtures present. HB 4 chooses to codify this decision in legislation. In other words, under HB 4, if someone possesses a bag containing three grams of cocaine and nine grams of baking soda, this bill would allow that person to be prosecuted and sentenced for the entire 12 grams, instead of just the three grams of actual cocaine.
The bill declares itself to be an “emergency measure” and would go into immediate effect upon passage.
LCS Legislation Status
Our Take on This Bill
The ACLU of Ohio opposes HB 4, as it is a perfect illustration of the flawed and counterproductive nature of the “War on Drugs.” This bill would throw and keep people in jail for possessing substances that are not drugs and are not otherwise illegal to possess, were they not mixed with actual drugs.
As a bill that seeks only to increase the length of prison sentences for people convicted of low-level drug offenses, HB 4 would further stress Ohio’s prison system, which is already operating far beyond its capacities. It would be far less burdensome and expensive to invest in equipment and personnel costs to determine, for example, how much cocaine is in a bag versus how much baking soda.
Rejecting HB 4 will not completely solve Ohio’s drug problem. Limiting the total number of incarcerated people will, however, save Ohio money, which can be used to upgrade the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation infrastructure and to provide resources to individuals suffering from addiction.
Introduced in the House on 2/1/17
Referred to the House Criminal Justice Committee on 2/8/17
Received Committee hearings on 2/8/17 and 2/14/17
Passed the House on 2/15/17
Introduced in the Senate on 2/21/17
Referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on 2/22/17
Received Committee hearings on 2/28/17, 3/7/17, and 3/28/17