So-Called Drug Reforms Put Public At Risk

March 6, 2009

Statistics tell us that we are winning the war on drugs. According to the New York State Department of Correctional Services, the number of drug offenders that were incarcerated in the past decade is down 43 percent, with a 23 percent decline in drug-related felons imprisoned in the last four years alone. Far more drug offenders are successfully navigating treatment programs and returning as productive members of our society.

The Assembly Majority recently sought to irresponsibly strip law enforcement agencies of their power in an attempt to abate the state’s drug sentencing laws. For too long, supporters of weak drug laws have spread myths of locking up marijuana users or first-time, non-violent offenders. However, in reality sensible sentencing reform has already taken place and these reforms have proven effective.

In 2004, the state Legislature repealed the antiquated Rockefeller Drug Laws and created a new sentencing structure that promoted the use of rehabilitation programs and less prison time for drug addicts. These actions have made a positive impact, resulting in the lowest number of incarcerated drug felons in 20 years and our state’s lowest prison population since 1991.

The New York State District Attorneys Association opposed this bill and I adamantly support their position on this legislation. As this reputable association points out, this so-called “reform package” eliminates the prosecutor’s role in selecting drug treatment options and further reduces drug sanctions, both of which will undermine the effectiveness of abuse treatment programs putting the general public at considerable risk. By advancing this legislation, my Assembly Majority colleagues apparently believe that our prisons should be revolving doors for repeat drug abusers and dealers.

Rather than increasing weight requirements for felony drug offenses and making more lenient drug sentencing options, the state should be focusing on offender treatment that will preserve the threat of incarceration for failure to comply with court-mandated rehabilitation. Drug rehab options shouldn’t be catch-all programs used to clear out our prisons, but rather reserved for addicts who can get clean and rejoin society. Redrafting new crimes to allow law enforcement the ability to arrest and prosecute drug traffickers and dealers is crucial to keeping our streets free of dangerous drugs.

The legislation passed in the Assembly does nothing to further our war on drugs. It does a huge disservice to drug abusers who want to get clean, but need structure to achieve this end, while not attacking the root of the problem by aggressively pursuing those who distribute the drugs. It is unfortunate that despite my staunch opposition to this legislation, as well as the District Attorneys Association and the Department of Correctional Services opposition, this bill passed the Assembly. It is my hope the state Senate will have the prudence and wherewithal to stop the advancement of this flawed and potentially devastating piece of legislation.

As always, your input on this or any other important state-related matter is greatly appreciated. Feel free to contact my district office at (315) 781-2030 or e-mail me at