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Ohio House passes bill with harsher drug, human trafficking penalties

Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) sits in committee in April 2024.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) sits in committee in April 2024.

A proposal to boost the penalties for human and drug trafficking cleared the Ohio House on Wednesday by a 80-13 vote.

Introduced last June by Reps. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) and D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron), House Bill 230 would recategorize the felony classifications for trafficking certain amounts of drugs, such as cocaine, fentanyl or heroin. Harsher penalties come with the state’s potential reclassifications.

The classifications and sentences for fentanyl or its modifications are the ones that increase the most under HB 230. Trafficking less than one gram of fentanyl would go from a fifth-degree felony to a third-degree felony—amended from an earlier version of the legislation where it would have gone from a fifth-degree to second-degree felony.

Abrams said Wednesday it brings state law into closer alignment with federal law.

“Our message is clear: If you want to traffic illegal drugs or humans, you better not come to Ohio,” she said in her floor testimony.

Among other changes, the bill also creates a new offense: participating in an organization for trafficking in persons, which is classified as a first-degree felony in the bill. And if someone dies from a fentanyl overdose in Ohio, the state would begin marking that on their death certificate.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction would likely see its incarceration costs rise statewide if HB 230 passes and becomes law, according to an Ohio Legislative Service Commission fiscal analysis of the bill. Prisons would need to add at least 1,300 to 1,500 beds statewide, per the analysis.

Thirteen Democrats voted against the bill, including Rep. Juanita O. Brent (D-Cleveland), who testified War on Drugs-style policies give her pause. Rep. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) said he shared similar reservations at first, but sat through committee testimony on the bill and changed his tune.

“This bill selectively addresses individuals—and hear me out—trafficking. This bill strongly focuses on trafficking. These are your drug dealers,” Thomas said in floor testimony.

Different strategies to address drugs

State and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are all for HB 230.

During hours of proponent testimony last fall, some have said it gives them more ability to punish the people selling drugs. Three anti-fentanyl advocacy organizations are also backing the bill. All of them are founded or led by family members of a loved one who died from an overdose that involved the substance.

Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) of Ohio argued it would be better for the state to approach drugs and addiction differently. This bill, the ACLU argued, would do little to address the state’s addiction crisis and instead overpopulate its prisons and could also disproportionately hurt Ohio’s communities of color.

HB 230 now heads to the Ohio Senate.

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the 80-13 vote.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at
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