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Date Posted:12/17/04

Rockefeller Drug Laws Get Changed
by: Kevin Benoit

H.L. December 14-Early Last week it was announced that after 30 years the Rockefeller drug laws would finally be amended. This isn’t a full repeal of the law but some of the most severe laws and mandates were slashed down the Rockefeller drug laws were enacted into law by Nelson Rockefeller In May of 1973. The purpose of these laws was and is to deter citizens from using or selling drugs and to punish and isolate from society those who were not deterred. The Rockefeller Drug Laws established mandatory prison sentences for the unlawful possession and sale of controlled substances keyed to the weight of the drug involved. Generally, the statutes require judges to impose a sentence of 15-years to life for anyone convicted of selling two ounces, or possessing four ounces of "narcotic drug" (typically cocaine or heroin).

The law has long been considered unjust because of the mandatory minimums and life terms and the extremely severe penalties for first time offenders and petty offenders. This repeal was a long time coming. The law was first considered a failure In 1977 The Committee on New York Drug Law Evaluations, a partnership between the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and The Drug Abuse Council, Inc. That same year legislators removed marijuana from the list of substances covered by the Rockefeller Drug Laws, decriminalizing its use and simple possession under 7/8 oz.
Russell Simmons, Hip Hop mogul and Def Jam Records founder has been recognized by many politicians as the major push behind getting punishments scaled down. Governor George Pataki thanked Simmons and promised to sign the bill into law. On December 14th he did jus that. The bill was approved by the Assembly 96-41 and by the Senate 53-6.
There are many changes to the law the biggest, sentences for major offenders would be cut from mandatory 15 years to life to sentences ranging from 8 to 20 years. Prisoners who are granted “good time” can be released in less than 7 years Currently there are 400 offenders in the system that can petition for reduced sentences or even for release because of that change. Sentences for nonviolent offenders, and B felonies would be reduced from minimum 4 1/2 years to 3 1/2 years. Other provisions of the law are that drug offenders could be sent to community based treatment programs 6 months sooner than under the revised law and nonviolent drug offenders could earn more merit time in jail through drug treatment or completing educational and vocational courses.

There is still work to be done on the laws, some people suggest there should be funding for drug treatment, others believe the sentences should be scaled down further. There are even a select few that feel laws have been scaled down far enough as is. One thing I hope we can all agree on is that this is a move in the right direction.

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