Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New York State finally relaxes 70s drug laws

As Stephen Harper moves to toughen Canada's drug laws (an overreaction and "one size fits all" approach to the very serious problem of street gangs, by bringing people far away from gang culture into the view of the criminal law), the State of New York which notorious for having some of the toughest laws in the United States (the so-called "Rockefeller Laws"), is moving to relax them. This is possible since the Democrats now control both houses in Albany, having broken the Republicans' long time strangehold on the Senate in last year's elections (in part to the demographic shift on Long Island).

In short, the laws currently require a prosecutor's permission before a judge can consider sending a first time offender into drug treatment -- now the lower house has said that discretion will go back to the judge where it properly belongs.

The bill has to be reconciled with a similar measure working its way through the state Senate, but when passed should help reduce the huge overcrowding that exists in the NYS prison system, and follows up on a 2004 measure that ended mandatory life sentences for most drug crimes. It also puts NYS more in line with other states who have come to realize that mandatory minimums are packing the prisons and bankrupting the criminal law system.

We of course have to deal with a firm hand with drug kingpins as well as those who for whom treatment is an impossibility. (Especially kingpins: Murder in the course of a drug transaction should carry a life sentence.) But the more we realize that drug use is a public health issue and not a crime issue, the better we'll be able to handle the problem. First and second time offenders, who have otherwise not committed any other crime while in possession or under the influence of drugs, should be in treatment and not in jail.

Harper would be well advised to learn from the American experience: Zero tolerance simply doesn't work.

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1 comment:

KC said...

Yes we can only hope the opposition parties bring some sanity to the house during the debate over Bill C-15. Given that they have said they support it "in principle", I doubt it.

Under the law as currently drafted you could get a 6 month mandatory minimum for growing a couple of pot plants for you and your friends. Thats just ridiculous.