Governor Paterson Calls for Reform of Rockefeller Drug Laws During State of the State Speech

Press Release January 6, 2009
Media Contact

Gabriel Sayegh at (646) 335-2264 or Anthony Papa at (646) 420-7290

Governor Paterson committed to reforming New York’s draconian drug laws in his State of the State address today, stating that “few initiatives have failed as badly and for as long at the Rockefeller Drug Laws.” The Governor said the modest reforms to the laws in 2004 did not go far enough in expanding treatment or judicial discretion, and that he is looking forward to receiving recommendations from the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform and then working with the Legislature to reform New York’s drug laws.

Advocates applauded the Governor’s commitment to real reform of the failed laws but warned that the Commission’s earlier recommendations are weak. “Gov. Paterson has been a champion in the fight to get rid of the Rockefeller Drug Laws,” said Gabriel Sayegh, a policy director with the Drug Policy Alliance. “But given the Sentencing Commission’s previous attempts to dodge and distort this issue, it is doubtful that the Commission report will address the need for real, substantial reform. The Governor should follow the New York State Assembly and begin exploring a public health approach to drug policy.”

Two factors should help reform: the economic crisis and Democratic control of the Assembly and Senate.

“New York is wasting billions of dollars and destroying thousands of lives with these failed laws,” said Anthony Papa, who was formerly incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws until his clemency by Governor George Pataki. “For over 35 years, these laws have failed New Yorkers. Governor Paterson has stood by our side and was even once arrested protesting these laws. But now he is finally in a position where he can show real leadership and help rid New York of this decades-long policy failure,” said Papa, a communications specialist with the Drug Policy Alliance in New York.

The Drug Policy Alliance is co-hosting a conference on January 22 and 23 at the New York Academy of Medicine to explore a public-health approach to drug policy in New York. Conference details can be found at

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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