Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
At City Hall today, Council members heard suggestions on reforming New York's 36-year-old Rockefeller drug laws. Critics of the law say the mandatory 15-year sentence for a first time conviction for selling or possessing two ounces of a controlled substance is too harsh. Simone-Marie Meeks of the New York Academy of Medicine thinks reforms need to include integrating government and medical professionals.
The NYCLU provided a report citing criminologist Alfred Blumstein: “That with respect to drug offenses, the much higher arrest and conviction rates for blacks are not related to higher levels of criminal offending, but can only be explained by other factors, including racial bias.”
Several health professionals questioned how successful the Rockefeller drug law has been in combating drug abuse. Daliah Heller of the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the drug users from the 1970s, “That same demographic just continues to age and continues to present the highest level of drug use in the population.”
And Gabriel O. Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance argued that marijuana laws need to be reformed as well. He believes that many New York police officers cost the city $100 million dollars a year in a practice known as “collars for dollars,” where officers will target small users of marijuana, particularly at the end of shift, so that the ensuing paper work will require overtime pay and their arrest record will be bolstered.
Council Member Oliver Koppell said this didn’t surprise him, but his concern was that the drug dealers, “Create an atmosphere of lawlessness and lack of respect for the law,” and if they could get rid of marijuana dealers officers could focus on the cocaine and heroin dealers. He added, “I know that legalization (of marijuana) is one solution,” but, “I don’t know how you keep it criminal but don’t have the police focus on arresting marijuana dealers.”
Koppell will continue to take suggestions for reforms before suggesting legislative changes in Albany.