Editorial: Talk is Cheap 1/5/01

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

Once again, New York's governor George Pataki is talking about "reforming" the Rockefeller Drug Laws. He's been talking about it for awhile, ever since getting elected several years ago, actually.

Talk is cheap, though. It's not enough for Pataki to just talk about changing the law. The law actually needs to get changed. At least he needs to make a credible effort to change them. Such an effort, on the part of a Republican governor, would be likely to meet with some success.

I personally don't think "reform" is what is needed for the Rockefeller Drug Laws -- they should be repealed outright. Actually, I think all the drug laws should be repealed, though that's not the issue at hand at this moment. But the harsh Rockefeller laws, at least, could feasibly be repealed, even in the current political context.

But if outright repeal is a little bit too much for Pataki, then the reforms should at least be substantial, not the minimal changes he supported last time this thing heated up (which didn't get anywhere either).

One of the people who spoke up this week to support Pataki's call for reform was outgoing Clinton drug czar Barry McCaffrey. Thanks Barry, you've talked about doing something about mandatory minimums before too. You've talked about reducing the proportion of federal dollars going to law enforcement (2/3) in favor of increasing funding for treatment and prevention (currently 1/3). Your press release yesterday once again claimed that prevention is "goal #1" of the National Drug Control Strategy.

But talk is cheap. Why didn't you do something about it? Every year you submitted a budget proposal to Congress that left the funding proportions virtually unchanged. An examination of those proposals -- including the one you unveiled yesterday -- shows that the supposed "goal #1" of your strategy gets a smaller chunk of the budget than any of the other stated goals your strategy lays out. You could have at least asked Congress to change the spending priorities, if you believed what you said. If Congress wanted to reject that change, let them do that and have that debate take place. Maybe something good would have come of it.

Instead of putting his energy into rolling back the mandatory minimum laws or changing the budget priorities, McCaffrey embarked on misguided ideological crusades against medical marijuana, needle exchange and industrial hemp, defending the ineffective DARE program that's sucking the money away from better drug education programs, and pumping dollars and weapons into a misguided Colombian adventure that human rights organizations and heads of state around the world oppose. In this case, talk was expensive -- expensive in lives, dollars, and missed opportunities to protect our nation's youth.

It's too late for McCaffrey, his tenure as drug czar ending, his last misleading press release promulgated. But it's not too late for Pataki to finally do something beyond issuing a few pardons or clemencies, not yet. The governor should put his money where his mouth is and solidly support some substantial changes to New York State's cruel drug war sentencing regime, before more years go by and idle talk is all he has left to offer.

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Issue #167, 1/5/01 New York Governor Pledges to "Dramatically Reform" Rockefeller Drug Laws, Skeptical Activists Await Specific Proposals | Still Giuliani Time: NYC Marijuana Arrests Go Through Roof While Coke-Snorting Yuppies Catch a Break | Hawaii Medical Marijuana: Open for Business | McCaffrey's Swan Song: ONDCP Releases 2001 National Drug Control Strategy Report | Banned in Boston, DC Says Okay: Marijuana Reform Ads Ride the Metro | Bluegrass Festival Threatens Suit Over Drug Checkpoint | Federal Court Drug-Testing Device Under Fire, PharmChem Sweat Patch May Be "Too Good" | Blue Ribbon New Mexico Advisory Group Issues Recommendations for Drug Policy Reform | Urgent Action: Ashcroft, Clemencies, Hemp | The Reformer's Calendar | Editorial: Talk is Cheap
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