Niagara Gazette

Columns

December 26, 2013

GLYNN: A hard look at Rockefeller Drug Laws

Niagara Gazette — It’s a milestone mostly overlooked by the U.S. media focusing so much on President Obama’s health care plan, the inability of federal lawmakers to resolve serious budget issues, and the growing unrest and turmoil around the globe.

In fact, it’s hard to believe that it was 40 years ago when the New York governor and state lawmakers pushed through what became known as the draconian “Rockefeller Drug Laws.” The prime supporter of that legislation was Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, the state chief executive from 1959 to 1973. Those laws increased the penalties for selling or possessing a few ounces of drugs, like heroin or marijuana, to a minimum of 15 years to life in prison.

“We arrested millions of people and built new jails in the state,” said Brian Mann, a reporter for North Country Public Radio and director of the Prison Time Media Project, an effort that has evaluated the effects of the failed drug laws.

Mann lashes out at the revisionist historians who contend that the drug laws were nothing more than the white people’s attack on black people. “In fact, the black community staunchly supported those Draconian (drug) laws,” Mann argues. The bottom line, he adds, “Those laws simply didn’t work. They didn’t stop it (drug traffic). They just put millions of people behind bars.”

It’s time to re-think the problem and, more importantly, the way society deals with it, according to Mann who was a recent guest on popular PBS program “New York Now” (WNED-TV).

•••

DELAY CITED: Reporters covering Gov. Cuomo’s final cabinet conference of the year were eager to find out the status of the long-awaiting state Department of Health report on the potential impact of hydrofracking on the environment. State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shav, a Buffalo native, said his department needed more time to study the findings. When a reporter reminded Shav that he had predicted in January that the report would be released soon, the physician said: “It will be released when I complete the study of the findings.” Hydrofracking, or fracking as it’s called, is a process of drilling to extract oil and natural gas from shale rock formations. At present, New York State has a ban on the process until, Cuomo has made it clear a decision will not be made until results of the health study are reviewed.

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