On May 8th, I joined advocates in recognizing the 35th anniversary of the passage of New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws, the harshest drug laws in the country. While we made inroads a few years ago in chipping away at draconian mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders, we still clearly have a long way to go to develop a sensible drug policy in New York.
There has been mounting evidence over the past two decades that the criminal justice system is not the appropriate avenue to address problems of drug use and abuse in our communities. For example, a RAND Drug Policy Center’s 1997 study determined that treatment is the most effective tool in the fight against drug abuse, finding that treatment reduced 15 times more serious crime than mandatory minimum sentences.
The New York State Assembly is doing its part to address New York State’s problem of drug use and abuse by looking beyond our criminal justice system and focusing instead on the public health impacts of the disease. On May 8th in New York City, and then again on May 15th in Rochester, the Assembly convened a joint hearing with members from the Codes, Criminal Justice, Social Services, Health, Judiciary and Alcoholism and Subtance Use committees. These historic hearings offered an opportunity to gather critical information needed to reform a system in desparate need of repair.
As the Senate Sponsor of a bill to expand drug treatment diversion options for nonviolent drug offenders and increase funding for community-based drug treatment and harm reduction programs, I am committed to moving our state away from a failed policy that has been lingering for 35 years in New York State. I look forward to working with the Governor and my colleagues in the Legislature in the year ahead to finally retire our ineffective and outdated drug laws, and replace them with a system that truly serves the people of our state.