Pot Smokers Get Something to Cheer About

Albany agrees to roll back Rockefeller drug laws

First-time offenders caught with marijuana may get a break under the law.

New York legislative leaders and Gov. David Paterson agreed Wednesday to adjust the strict 1970’s-era Rockefeller drug laws, according to The New York Times. 

Long deemed among the toughest rules of their kind in the country, the Rockefeller laws imposed mandatory minimum prison requirements on low-level drug criminals. Under the deal reached in Albany, judges would, for the first time, have the option of remanding minor felons to treatment rather than the big house.

That plan would come at a cost -- $50 million to expand the jurisdiction of drug courts and treatment programs, reported The Times.

Authorities enacted the harsh Rockefeller laws in New York nearly four decades ago amid widespread heroin use in poor communities. The state’s move prompted a spate of similar legal actions across the nation, but as other states have moved to repeal some of the stricter aspects of the laws, New York has refused to budge -- until now.

“We’re putting judges in the position to determine sentences based on the facts of a case, and not on mandatory minimum sentences,” Queens assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry told The Times. “To me, that is the restoration of justice.”

The deal still has to be approved by the state Assembly and Senate, but lawmakers are confident some of the tougher legal requirements -- those that have seemed to unduly punish offenders and disproportionately impugn blacks and Latinos -- will be repealed.

The Rockefeller drug laws passed in 1973. They were nicknamed for then Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who strongly advocated their ability to address the heroin epidemic plaguing urban communities and reduce property crimes committed by young people, according to The Times.

The change in the tough laws is a victory for Paterson, a spokeswoman for the governor told the paper. Paterson has long advocated drug reform.

His spokeswoman said the changes “reflect the governor’s core principle to focus on treatment rather than punishment to end the cycle of addiction,” according to the Times.

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