N.Y. Lawmakers Agree to Reform Controversial Drug Laws

N.Y. Lawmakers Agree to Reform Controversial Drug Laws

Published March 27, 2009

In a historic move, New York officials announced Friday that they’ve reached an agreement to reform the state’s controversial Rockefeller Drug Laws.

Named after former N.Y. governor Nelson Rockefeller, the laws’ mandatory drug sentencing has received a lot of criticism over the years.

Under the laws, someone who sold two ounces of heroin, morphine, “raw or prepared opium,” cocaine, cannabis or marijuana would be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison – the same sentence a person convicted of second-degree murder would receive. The penalty would be the same for someone who possessed four ounces of the listed substances.

"Ending the Rockefeller Drug Laws is a great victory for the hip-hop community," hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons said. "We worked hard, turned up the volume on this issue and rejuvenated and broadened the coalition, but it was hip-hop artists like Diddy, Jay-Z and 50 Cent that gave this movement for change the power to wake people up and to get the politicians to do the right thing."

Other activists are also rejoicing, saying that the deal could right many past wrongs.

“The deal announced today, if enacted, would finally address some of the most egregious injustices and waste perpetrated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws,” said Gabriel Sayegh, the project director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The governor and legislature clearly understand that New Yorkers can no longer afford the Rockefeller Drug Laws,” Sayegh continued. While incarcerating someone costs about $45,000 each year, “treatment and alternatives to incarceration cost far less and are far more effective,” Sayegh added.

Anthony Papa spent 12 years in prison for a drug offense before former New York Gov. George Pataki granted him clemency. “As someone who spent 12 years behind bars on a nonviolent drug offense, I know how important it is for those who have drug problems to get help instead of a prison cell.”

In New York state prisons, there are about 12,000 people behind bars on drug offenses and a shocking ratio, 90 percent, are Black or Latino.

While changes made to the law will cut mandatory minimum sentences and let judges send first-time offenders to drug treatment instead of prison, most of those currently serving sentences under the laws won’t be eligible for retroactive sentencing, reports Metro International. 

Written by BET.com News Staff

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