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Monday, March 2, 2009

Rockefeller's NY Drug Laws May Finally Die

When I graduated from Hofstra University School of Law in 1975, I did not go to work practicing law straightaway. I had been very active politically with the local Nassau County Democratic party, and used my political contacts to arrange for a legal job with the New York State Senate. So my first job as an attorney, after interning at the Nassau County District Attorney's office, was as a Criminal Justice Analyst with the State of New York Minority Leader’s office.

My job in Albany was to draft and review legislation which more than likely would go nowhere, since the Republicans ran the show. But the loyal opposition nevertheless proposed and countered the majority's legislative goals. Thirty four years later, I can’t say I remember a lot about the job, other than to say New York politics was very corrupt, and they paid a lot of people not to show up to work. When they did, they did next to nothing. And I can't say what we did had much impact. I left after a year of boredom.

What I do remember from my one year tenure in the marble halls of Rockefeller’s World was that the timid Albany legislators took a cue from Richard Nixon and passed some of the harshest and most unjust drug laws in the history of the modern world. Today, however, my fellow classmate from Hofstra Law School is the Empire State’s governor, and David Paterson has boldly said he wants to roll back some of the mandatory minimums and grant judges more latitude in sentencing. Even Nixon’s own henchman, Roger Stone, now plying his trade in Fort Lauderdale, is for this sweeping change. Bravo. For too many years too many people have been jailed for too long a time.

The New York Assembly is expected to pass legislation on Tuesday that will give judges back the discretion to send those found guilty of having smaller amounts of illegal drugs to substance-abuse treatment instead of prison and allow thousands of inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses to apply to have their sentences reduced or commuted. If only Florida and Charles Crist could follow this lead, our state would be better off.

Here is the Times article that I am sure will lead to national news stories and commentators who are going to say 'it's about time.' And it sure has been about time. Too much of it for pot prisoners.

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