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Drug Testing: Widely Publicized West Virginia Bill to Test People on Public Assistance Dies

A bill by West Virginia Republican state Del. Craig Blair that would have mandated random drug testing of people who receive food stamps or unemployment benefits received nationwide publicity, but no respect in Charleston, where the measure is stalled in committee and won't even get a hearing. A last chance effort by Blair to force the bill to a House floor vote Tuesday was defeated 70-30 on a straight party line vote.

The bill, HB 3007, picked up a handful of cosponsors, but also attracted heated opposition from welfare rights, civil liberties, and children's advocacy groups. Opponents argued that requiring drug testing to receive government benefits was most likely unconstitutional, more likely to impact poor families negatively than not, and just downright cruel.

Blair argued that the state was facing "a crisis" of drug abuse among state aid recipients, but never produced evidence to back up his claim. But he has still achieved something: Instant notoriety. Blair, who is not publicity-shy, created his own web site to push the bill, and has gotten national media attention. He claims his web site has 50,000 hits now.

But he has also suffered the slings and arrows of outraged fellow legislators. Del. Sally Susman (D-Raleigh) hand delivered a letter to Blair calling his bill the "most ridiculous" of the session. House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster (D-Kanawha) said of Blair that "he has an idea, but he has no plan," as she explained that many bills never make it to committee agendas.

Blair and his drug testing bill are gone for this year. But similar efforts remain alive in a handful of other states.

Marijuana: Connecticut Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote

A bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession in Connecticut leapt its first hurdle Tuesday night, passing 24-14 in the legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee after a hearing last week. The bill, SB 349, passed after being amended to not apply to minors and by reducing the amount of pot in question.
Gov. Rell showed great cruelty to patients with her veto of Connecticut's medical marijuana bill, so it's not surprising she wants to continue persecuting non-medical users too.
As originally filed, the bill would have made possession of less than an ounce an infraction punishable only with a fine, while possession of between an ounce and a quarter pound would be a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and one year in jail. But in debate Tuesday, sponsors accepted both the amendment regarding minors and one reducing the decrim amount to one half ounce.

The Connecticut committee vote comes just months after neighboring Massachusetts became the latest state to decriminalize. The effort is being pursued vigorously by some Democratic legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven), who is one of the bill's sponsors. Looney and others argued that the state could save $11 million a year in policing, judicial, and probation costs by issuing tickets for offenders instead of requiring arrests and court hearings.

House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero (R-Norwalk), a former expulsion officer for the Norwalk schools, opposed the measure, saying he had seen high-achieving students turn into poor students after becoming regular pot smokers. "I've seen kids who are getting high at 7:00 in the morning, sometimes at 12 years old,'' Cafero told the committee. "It ruins a lot of lives. It ruins a lot of families. It's not a matter of efficiency. It's not a matter of money. It's a matter of lives.''

Pulling out all stops, Cafero also refrained the "not your parents' marijuana" argument and the "sending the wrong message" argument. "What is the message that we as a legislature will send when we decriminalize marijuana?'' Cafero asked. "That sends a wrong message.'' Cafero even complained that if the bill passes, a person speeding on Connecticut highways could face a larger fine than someone possessing "15 marijuana joints."

That last debating point drew a sharp retort from Sen. Edwin Gomes (D-Bridgeport), who argued it was entirely appropriate for a speeder to pay a higher fine than a pot smoker. "That person who is speeding should be fined more than someone who has less than a half ounce of marijuana because he is more of a hazard to the public,'' said Gomes.

Another bill supporter, Rep. Ernest Hewett (D-New London) said stopping people who wanted to smoke marijuana was all but impossible and that lawmakers should focus on more serious drug problems. "I think alcohol is the real problem. We're just disregarding that,'' Hewett said.

The bill must still win floor votes in both houses of the General Assembly, and even then, it faces the likelihood of a veto by Gov. Jodi Rell (R), who has never met a marijuana reform bill she liked. Two years ago, she vetoed medical marijuana legislation that had passed both houses. Tuesday night, one of her spokesmen suggested strongly she would veto this one if it made it to her desk. "Whether it's little or a lot, it is an illegal substance, and the governor does not support the bill,'' said Christopher Cooper after the vote.

Pregnancy: Missouri Bill to Criminalize Drug Using Mothers-To-Be Faces Tough Scrutiny, Similar Tennessee Bills Die

A Missouri bill that would criminalize drug use by pregnant woman got a hearing Tuesday, but the reception was not very friendly. A pair of similar bills in Tennessee died on the vine this week.

In Missouri, Sen. Brad Lager (R-Savannah), author of the bill, SB 459, ran into a skeptical reception at the state Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Mt. Vernon) got Lager to agree to an amendment that would block prosecution if the woman was seeking treatment, but that wasn't enough for Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City), who said the bill was unnecessary because there were already remedies for women who harmed their children.

Nor was it good enough for children's, welfare, and civil rights advocates. "We sit here in a room of privilege, but there are those who live in dire circumstances that we are blessed not to understand," said Colleen Coble of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. For the targets of the bill, "the public policy means nothing," Coble said. "What they know is, you go to the doctor, you go to jail."

Also testifying against the bill were the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the Missouri Catholic Conference.

But Lager remained determined to forge forward, and a vote could take place as early as next week. "I just believe strongly that this type of action and this type of behavior cannot be condoned," he said.

A similar effort in Tennessee, however, has already bitten the dust, according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which released an analysis of the Tennessee bills that laid out the case against such legislation in general and in Tennessee in particular. The advocacy group has also produced a fact sheet delineating just what is wrong with criminalizing women who use drugs while pregnant.

Medical Marijuana: Oakland Cannabis Community Offers City Help on Taxes

Three Oakland city council members want to raise taxes on medical marijuana revenues, and, as is rarely the case, the objects of that potential tax are fine with that. The proposed business tax rate on medical marijuana sales would double, from $12 to $24 per each $1,000 in gross revenues, according to a report from
Oaksterdam tent, San Francisco Cannabis Day 2005 (Tim Castleman, courtesy SF Bay Area IndyMedia)
The move is being championed by council members Rebecca Kaplan, Nancy Nadel, and Jean Quan. The trio reported in an agenda report dated for next week that the tax increase could bring in somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000 a year in additional revenues for the city. That suggests medical marijuana sales in the city are running somewhere between $16 million and $32 million a year.

Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University, owner of the Bulldog Cafe and SR-71 dispensary, and primary champion of Oaksterdam, the notion of revitalizing a hunk of downtown Oakland through the marijuana industry, said he had been working with council members on the proposal and that the industry was behind it. "We believe we should be paying more taxes, and we want to help the city more in its economic crisis," Lee said.

Lee also suggested that taxes should not be borne solely by dispensaries, but also by suppliers and nurseries. That would help further legitimate the industry, he said.

Feature: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly -- New York Rockefeller Drug Law Reform on the Verge of Passage

A week ago today, New York Gov. David Paterson (D) and state Assembly and Senate leaders announced they had reached an agreement on reforming the state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws. The agreement marked a partial retreat from the reforms envisioned in an Assembly bill passed earlier this year, but still offers a significant improvement over the status quo.
long road to freedom: 2001 protest of Rockefeller drug laws, Albany (courtesy
The measure was to have been voted on this week as part of the state's budget bill, but that hasn't happened yet, and that's making advocates nervous. While the consensus among advocates seems to be that the bill doesn't go far enough, most want to see it passed as a step in the right direction.

The Rockefeller drug laws were enacted in 1973 and mandate extremely tough prison sentences for the sale or possession of relatively small amounts of drugs. Although allegedly aimed at "drug kingpins," tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned under them, most of them low-level nonviolent offenders. Currently, some 12,000 people are doing time for drug offenses in New York, and they constitute one-fifth of the prison population. Nearly 90% of them are black or Hispanic.

Partial reforms in 2004 and 2005 did little to halt the imprisonment juggernaut. While providing some relief for some drug offenders, those reforms resulted in even more people being sent to prison on drug charges than before.

"While much more moderate than the reform bill passed by the Assembly last month, this proposal constitutes an important step forward in developing more effective drug policies based in public health and safety," said Gabriel Sayegh, project director with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The legislature and governor should have made the proposal even more expansive, for instance by returning discretion to judges in every drug case, not only low-level cases. We believe, though, that this bill constitutes real reform, and should be enacted."

Under the tripartite agreement, the Rockefeller reform bill would:

  • Return judicial discretion in low-level drug law cases;
  • Expand treatment and reentry services;
  • Expand drug courts;
  • Allow for approximately 1,500 people incarcerated for low-level nonviolent drug offenses to apply for resentencing;
  • Increase penalties for drug "kingpins";
  • Increase penalties on adults who sell drugs to young people.

In the reforms of 2004 and 2005, people serving A-level felonies -- the most serious -- were able to apply for resentencing, but not those serving B-level felonies, who constitute the bulk of Rockefeller prisoners. While the resentencing option would now be open for some 1,500 B-level offenders, that means that more than 10,000 New York drug war prisoners would remain without recourse.

The bill would also allow judges to divert some low-level drug offenders into drug treatment or other alternatives to imprisonment, but only if they convince judges they are addicts. Given that incarceration costs three times as much as treatment, the state stands to save millions if judges exercise that sentencing discretion.

"As a former prisoner under the Rockefeller drug laws, I support this legislation because it will rescue many of the prisoners who fell through the cracks of the prior reforms," said DPA's Anthony Papa. "This proposal will give people convicted of low-level drug offenses a chance to be reunited with their families and become productive tax paying citizens like myself."

"If this becomes law, it will be a big step forward," said Caitlin Dunklee of the Correctional Association of New York and coordinator of the Drop the Rock campaign. "This is the first major reform of the Rockefeller drug laws since their enactment. It dismantles mandatory minimum sentencing in a meaningful way. It also allocates money for alternatives to incarceration and drug treatment," she said.

But the package doesn't include everything reformers sought, Dunklee conceded. "It does leave intact some harsh mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses and will lead to the incarceration of future low-level drug offenders -- about half of them will face mandatory minimums. Also, the retroactivity provisions are too limited; fewer than 1,500 of the more than 10,000 behind bars for drug offenses will be eligible to apply," she said. "We have family members asking when their loved ones are coming home, but very few are going to get out early."

"It's a lukewarm reform," said a disappointed Randy Credico of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Social Justice, long a key player in the Rockefeller repeal movement and now preparing to challenge Sen. Charles Schumer in next year's elections. "New York's criminal justice system needed a giant enema, and all the politicians did was pass gas."

"This proposal is a step forward," said Alan Rosenthal, an attorney with the Center for Community Alternatives, a New York organization that works on alternatives to imprisonment. "It is in the tradition of modest reform coming on the heels of the 2004 and 2005 reforms," he said. "It captures some of the same features, allows some resentencing as those did, but still leaves us with a pretty overbearing structure, and although a lot of attention is paid to treatment versus punishment, it still leaves an awful lot of room for punishment and a lot of people stuck in prison. From my perspective, I would give kudos to the legislators who supported this, but would certainly give fair warning to the public that there is still a lot of work to be done."

Rosenthal pointed out that while the reform would allow judges to exercise discretion, that doesn't mean they will. "Most judges come from a prosecutorial background," he noted. "It's not likely that they have an enlightened view of how counterproductive and destructive prison can be. At this point, I don't think things are going to look much different from when the DAs had the discretion. This will be a tiny spigot, and those judges are going to be trying to figure out who is worthy and who is not, who might look more dangerous because of class, skin color, or ethnicity. That sort of potential for coloring judicial decisions leaves us still needing broader reform and a broader understanding of how to deal with these issues."

Whether such partial reforms should be supported is a thorny question, said Rosenthal. "It is difficult to sit there and know that a smaller percentage than we would like are going to benefit, but it's also difficult to say we're going to hold out for everything knowing that if we do, some people are going to suffer under the yoke of imprisonment," he said. "The downside is the public impression that all that needs to be done has been done. Those still left in prison and their family members who are not getting any relief will understand there is more work to do, but the problem will be our ability to blow air into the balloon of public concern."

Sayegh defended the partial reform as the best that could be achieved. "Our job as advocates is to fight like hell to get the most we can get done. We are committed to that. After a hundred years of prohibition and drug wars, anyone who thinks we can accomplish the extraordinary and impossible in one legislative package is dreaming. We need to make the impossible possible and the possible inevitable, and that implies a process. We are here for the long haul," he vowed.

It may be a long haul. "A lot of people I talk to who are not involved in drug policy have told me they thought this was taken care of in 2004 and 2005," said Nicolas Eyle of ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy, an upstate drug reform group. "It will be the same thing again with this bill, but we still have long sentences, we have a kingpin proposal that sounds like it will fit your normal street corner drug crew, so we'll end up with these retail dealers doing 15-to-life. This bill is a step in the right direction, but it's only a baby step," he said.

Likening the Rockefeller repeal movement to the antebellum Abolitionist movement, Credico said the battle against slavery did not settle for half-measures. "The criminal justice system is the new slave power," he said, "and just like the Jim Crow laws, the drug laws will continue to be used to jail, convict, imprison, and disenfranchise people on a massive level. Everyone -- judges, DAs, defense attorneys, corrections officers, court officers, probation and parole officers, upstate politicians and contractors -- depends on these drug cases to stay busy and keep the prisons filled."

The coerced treatment provisions of the reform package are misguided, Credico said. "The drug reform community wants to use the false language of it's a health issue, but these people aren't sick addicts; they're dime bag desperados, the guys retailing on the street corners. Now, they're going to have to plead guilty and convince judges they're addicts," he argued. "If they can't prove they're addicts, they can still go to jail, and they'll be doing one to nine years. This at a time when we have black youth unemployment in the city at 65%. What else are they supposed to do?"

Like Credico, Dunklee was critical of the provision making only people who convince judges they are addicts eligible for diversion in B-level offenses. "This sets up a distinction between people addicted or not," she said, "and only people who are deemed substance dependent will be eligible for diversion. Those people who maybe don't need treatment, but could instead be helped in other ways will be facing mandatory minimum prison terms. We object strongly to that."

Addressing the increased sentences for "kingpins" and people who sell drugs to minors in the final bill, Dunklee said it was a sop to prosecutors. "Gov. Paterson wanted to avoid appearing soft on crime, so he endorsed sentencing enhancements for people the public demonizes," she said. "When the public hears about selling drugs to minors, they think about the guy in the trench coat in the school yard, not the 21-year-old selling to the 17-year-old. The judges will not be able to look at the circumstances of each case, and the young man will go to jail for a long time, but that's not what the public has in mind."

For Dunklee and Drop the Rock, the battle is not over. "We're not going out of business, we're going to keep the coalition intact," she said. "This partial reform has the potential to take the air out of the movement, but we are going to assess how to continue. Our people are committed to full repeal, and we are open to the possibility of broadening our agenda to include prison downsizing. We are going to be figuring out how to respond to the reforms and the new political climate," she said.

But, given that at this writing, the long-delayed final passage of the bill has not yet occurred and given that the Senate Democrats have a razor thin majority, this ex post facto analysis of the 2009 Rockefeller law reforms may be premature. "The bill hasn't passed yet," cautioned Sayegh. "Of course, they will pass a budget bill, but the question is what is going to be included in it. Right now, there are a number of legislators and prosecutors and rags like the Daily News putting out garbage. There is a lot of opposition to this provision, so we can't take its passage for granted. We're almost there, but we're not there yet," he said.

Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Wins Committee Vote, Heads for Senate Floor
Minnesota State Capitol
The Minnesota medical marijuana bill, SF 97, cleared its fourth and final Senate committee hurdle Thursday, winning approval of the Senate Finance Committee on a 9-3 vote. It is now headed for a Senate floor vote.

"I am delighted that this compassionate, sensible bill is now on its way to the Senate floor," said bill sponsor Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing). "With Michigan's medical marijuana law taking full effect this weekend, I am increasingly optimistic that Minnesota will soon become the 14th state to get politics out of the doctor-patient relationship and protect medical marijuana patients from arrest."

A companion measure in the House has also been passed by four separate committees. It has not had a House floor vote.

In 2007, a similar bill won a Senate floor vote, but in the face of a veto threat by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the House never put it to a vote. Pawlenty's position hasn't changed this year, although he did say he might reconsider if law enforcement did not oppose it. But so far, there's no sign of that.

Press Release: Senate Finance Committee Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, 9-3

Minnesota Cares logo

APRIL 2, 2009

Senate Finance Committee Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, 9-3


CONTACT: Former Rep. Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover)........................................................(763) 439-1178

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA -- The Senate Finance Committee passed the Senate version of Minnesota's medical marijuana bill, S.F. 97, today by a vote of 9 to 3. Having passed this final Senate committee, the bill now moves to the Senate floor.

     "I am delighted that this compassionate, sensible bill is now on its way to the Senate floor," said bill sponsor Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing). "With Michigan's medical marijuana law taking full effect this weekend, I am increasingly optimistic that Minnesota will soon become the 14th state to get politics out of the doctor-patient relationship and protect medical marijuana patients from arrest."

     Laws removing criminal penalties for patients using medical marijuana with their doctor's recommendation are in effect in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Michigan's law, which takes full effect on April 4, is the most recently enacted, passing with a record-setting 63 percent "yes" vote last November.

     Numerous other states, including Illinois, New Hampshire and New Jersey, are presently considering similar legislation. The Obama administration recently announced a policy of non-interference with state medical marijuana laws, pledging to conduct raids or arrests only when individuals have violated both state and federal law.

     Organizations that have recognized marijuana's medical uses include the American College of Physicians, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, among others.


St. Paul, MN
United States

Press Release: Historic Reforms of New York's Draconian Drug Sentencing Scheme Imminent

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 31, 2009 CONTACT: Jennifer Carnig, 212.607.3363 / NYCLU: Historic Reforms of New York’s Draconian Drug Sentencing Scheme Imminent March 31, 2008 – In anticipation of the passage of the budget within the next 24 hours, the New York Civil Liberties Union today applauded the State Legislature for making significant reforms to New York State’s notoriously harsh and ineffective mandatory minimum drug sentencing scheme. “New York State is on the verge of a historic moment,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This bill does not eliminate the Rockefeller Drug Laws but it does provide for a new approach to substance abuse. Substance abuse is a public health issue and today, after 36 long years, New York is finally poised to treat it that way.” Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Though intended to target drug kingpins, most sentenced under the laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses. Most of the nearly 12,000 New Yorkers serving time for drug offenses have substance abuse problems; many others turned to drugs because of problems related to homelessness, mental illness or unemployment. For decades, the NYCLU, criminal justice advocates and medical experts have fought to untie the hands of judges and allow addiction to be treated as a public health matter. As noted in the New York State Sentencing Commission’s recent report, sentencing non-violent drug offenders to prison is ineffective and counterproductive, and has resulted in unconscionable racial disparities: Blacks and Hispanics comprise more than 90 percent of those currently incarcerated for drug felonies, though most people using illegal drugs are white. The budget bill embraces two fundamental principles of reform: elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, and a significant restoration of the ability for judges to order treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration. “The proposed reform, if adopted, will not eliminate irrationality and injustice from the drug sentencing laws, but it shifts New York’s failed drug policy away from mass incarceration and toward a public health model,” said Robert Perry, NYCLU legislative director. The bill: • Restores the authority of a judge to send individuals charged with drug offenses into substance abuse treatment rather than prison; • Expands in-prison treatment and re-entry services so that people who want and need help can access it; and • Allows for approximately 1,500 people serving excessive sentences for low-level nonviolent drug offenses to apply for resentencing. The NYCLU took pains, however, to make clear that while the bill represents an important step in overhauling the drug laws, it does not fully realize the reform principles on which the legislation is based. Significant remnants of the Rockefeller Drug Law scheme remain in place. The NYCLU noted, for example, that the bill: • Leaves in place a sentencing scheme that permits unreasonably harsh maximum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses; • Disqualifies from eligibility for treatment and rehabilitation individuals who may be most in need of such programs; and • Retains a weight-based sentencing scheme, which will lead to a long mandatory prison sentence for someone who has a few grams more of a substance than someone who is eligible for treatment. “To hear the protests of the district attorney’s lobby, one would think that the legislature is proposing radical reform,” Lieberman said. “It is not. The bill restores an important measure of common sense and rationality to our drug laws. But there is more work to be done to restore fundamental justice and fairness.” - xxx -
United States

Press Release: Details of Rockefeller Reform Proposal Released

For Immediate Release: March 30, 2009 For More Info: Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Gabriel Sayegh at (646) 335-2264 Proposal to Reform Rockefeller Drug Laws Included in NYS Budget Package, Vote Expected Tomorrow Bill Restores Judicial Discretion, Expands Drug Treatment, and Reforms Sentences for Low-Level, Nonviolent Drug Offenses Advocates: A Good First Step Towards Developing a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drugs in New York ALBANY- Over the weekend, New York Governor David Paterson, the Senate and the Assembly concluded negotiations on Rockefeller Drug Law reform. The bill is part of the state budget proposed by lawmakers, which is expected to be voted on this week. The bill outlines broad reforms to the long-failed Rockefeller Drug Laws, including restoring judicial discretion in most low-level drug cases, expanding drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration for people convicted of low-level nonviolent offenses, and increasing penalties for drug kingpins and adults who sell drugs to young people. “While much more moderate than the reform bill passed by the Assembly last month, this proposal constitutes an important step forward in developing more effective drug policies based in public health and safety,” said Gabriel Sayegh, project director with the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Legislature and Governor should have made the proposal even more expansive, for instance by returning discretion to judges in every drug case, not only low-level cases. We believe, though, that this bill constitutes real reform, and should be enacted.” Details of the proposal include: * Returns judicial discretion low-level drug law cases * Expands treatment and re-entry services * Expands drug courts * Allows for approximately 1,500 people incarcerated for low-level nonviolent drug offenses to apply for resentencing * Increases penalties for drug kingpins * Increases penalties on adults who sell drugs to young people The bill would allow certain people incarcerated for low-level nonviolent drug offenses to apply to the court for resentencing. The reforms of 2004 and 2005, enacted by a Democratic Assembly, Republican Senate and Republican Governor, allowed those person’s serving A-level felonies—the most serious felony level—apply for resentencing. But those reforms did not allow the vast majority of people incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws—those imprisoned for lower-level offenses--to be resentenced under the fairer system. The bill presented by the Legislature and Governor seeks to remedy this problem. The proposal would also allow judges to send those convicted of low-level drug law offenses into drug treatment or other alternatives to incarceration. The move could save New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Incarceration costs approximately $45,000 per year, while treatment and alternatives to incarceration cost $15,000 or less, and are far more effective at reducing recidivism and criminal activity. “As a former prisoner under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, I support this legislation because it will rescue many of the prisoners who fell through the cracks of the prior reforms,” said Anthony Papa, of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This proposal will give people convicted of low-level drug offenses a chance to be reunited with their families and become productive tax paying citizens like myself.” Earlier this month, the Assembly passed more significant reform legislation which started the negotiations for reform. Assembly bill 6085, sponsored by long-time reform champion Assemblyman Jeff Aubry (D-Queens), chairman of the Corrections Committee and Speaker Silver, was even more comprehensive than the proposal included in the budget today. Senator Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Codes Committee, introduced similar legislation in the Senate, but that bill was never passed. An agreement of a meaningful compromise between he Governor, the Senate and the Assembly was announced at the Capitol last Friday. Enacted in 1973, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Supposedly intended to target major dealers (kingpins), most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses, and many of them have no prior criminal record. Approximately 12,000 people are locked up for drug offenses in New York State prisons, representing nearly 21 percent of the prison population, and costing New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Nearly 90% of those incarcerated are Black and Latino, representing some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. “This proposal isn’t as expansive as it should be, but it represents significant and long-overdue reforms,” said Sayegh. “For years advocates have fought for reforms to these failed laws. Now, after weeks of negotiations between the Legislature and Governor, we’re one vote away from real, meaningful reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”
United States

Press Release: NYCLU -- Rockefeller Bill a Major Step Forward

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 29, 2009 CONTACT: Jennifer Carnig, 845.553.0349 / 212.607.3363 / NYCLU: Rockefeller Bill a Major Step Forward March 29, 2009 -- The bill to reform New York’s draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws is finally complete – finalized late Saturday night – and the New York Civil Liberties Union today applauded the historic agreement. “After 36 years of gross injustice, we are finally on the verge of significant reform to these ineffective, cruel laws,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The bill that the governor, senate and assembly agreed to does not repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws, but if it passes it will be a major step toward justice in New York.” The final bill embraces – for the first time and in a meaningful way – two important principles of 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. The reform bill comes to a vote on Tuesday. Its passage is not guaranteed, Lieberman warned, and the possibility exists for the addition of amendments that would torpedo the essential gains made in the draft legislation. “It’s more important than ever for advocates, activists and everyday New Yorkers to call their elected officials,” said NYCLU Legislative Director Robert Perry. “This bill is an important step toward safer, healthier communities. We need to urge our leaders to support it.”
United States

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