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Community members gather at Ohio Valley Mall to talk Issue 1

A public meeting was held Thursday evening to discuss an amendment that could change the way drug possession is handled.

A public meeting was held Thursday evening to discuss an amendment that could change the way drug possession is handled.

The room was full inside the Ohio Valley Mall as residents of Belmont County and surrounding areas came together to talk Issue 1.

"There are several problems with that. Number one: there can be no penalty,” said Belmont County Judge Frank Fregiato. “That sounds bizarre, but that’s the truth… Even if you revoke probation, there’s no penalty."

This proposed statewide issue would change a lower-level drug possession charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Fregiato said there’s more to it.

"That’s not the problem alone that it’s a misdemeanor. It’s a misdemeanor that’s unenforceable. In other words, you cannot be incarcerated until the third conviction in two years."

Those in support of Issue 1 believe the proposed amendment would allow more people to seek counseling, and in return, help battle their drug addiction.

Fregiato said it would do just the opposite.

"You can order counseling, but if the individual does not do counseling, there’s no consequence. So, as a result, I think you’re going to end up with less counseling, not more counseling,” he said. “Less rehabilitation, not more rehabilitation."

We The People Ohio Valley sponsored Thursday evening's discussion, and they have a clear stance when it comes to Issue 1.

"It’s not a problem with the justice department, it’s a problem with social services,” said Director Bob Connors. “And we need to improve treatment, not reduce the ability of our justice system and our police to do their job."

“If you’re worried about the drug addiction problem, either way, vote against Issue 1,” Fregiato said.

Voting takes place Nov. 6.

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