Drug Law Reform Provisions in NYS Budget Bill
State Lawmakers Pass Historic Drug Law Reforms
On April 2, 2009, the State Legislature passed legislation that embraces two important principles of drug law reform: It includes an elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, and it includes a restoration of judges’ authority to send many drug offenders to treatment programs instead of jail.
These reforms are a major step toward ending a disastrous policy that has ruined lives, torn apart families and caused enormous racial inequities. Substance abuse is both a public health and a law enforcement issue and today, after 36 long years, New York will finally start treating it that way.
On March 27, 2009, Governor Paterson and state legislative leaders announced they had reached a deal to reform the drug laws. The NYCLU applauded their pledge to enact meaningful reform, but cautioned that the essential details of the agreement are not yet public. Details as yet available reflect a significant shift in policy and an important agreement in principle, but significant details have yet to be worked out.
On March 25, hundreds rallied in front of Gov. David Paterson’s Manhattan office, urging the governor and legislative leaders to enact a sweeping overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
The Rockefeller Drug Laws, enacted in 1973, mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Supposedly intended to target major dealers, most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses, and many of them have no prior criminal record. Across New York State, the Rockefeller Drug Laws create stark racial disparities and exact an enormous financial toll.
Justice and common sense require comprehensive reform. Our lawmakers must act to restore judicial discretion to drug sentencing and explore alternatives to incarceration that treat non-violent drug offenders instead of locking them away for years and ensure that only the most egregious offenders are sent to prison.