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On Tuesday, two prominent Annapolis legislators will be arriving in Albany to meet with their NY counterparts. They will be available for comment after the conclusion of Tueday’s conference committee on Rockefeller reform. Maryland House minority leader Anthony O’Donnell (R) and Obie Patterson (D), Chairman of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, will be comparing notes with their NY colleagues on the sensitive issue of drug policy reform.
“Both New York and Maryland legislators have recognized that our current drug laws are not working,” said Del. O’Donnell (R). “The challenge is how to change them. We’re excited to share our experiences with New York legislators and learn from each other.”
Republicans and Democrats in both states are coming together in order to address drug laws. In New York, a conference committee is currently meeting about Rockefeller reform, while earlier this month in Maryland, the Drug Offender Diversion Bill passed with enormous bipartisan support: it will save the state between $44 and $66 million annually by offering treatment instead of incarceration to non-violent low-level offenders.
There are many similarities between the startling racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws in both states. 90% of those incarcerated for drug offenses in Maryland are African American, while 93% of those incarcerated under Rockefeller drug laws are Latinos and African Americans–this, in spite of the fact that there is roughly equal drug use across the races. “These numbers were our call to action,” said Del. Patterson (D). “Delegate O’Donnell and myself find ourselves on opposite sides of every issue, but for this important bill, we and our parties decided to put our differences aside in order to save money and lives.”
Republican Governor Robert Erhlich called the legislation– which passed with a house vote of 139 to 1 in favor, and a unanimous senate vote in favor– “the best bill we’ve had all year.” Delegate O’Donnell (R) said the bill “recognizes the need to treat those citizens with addictions instead of just locking them up. This is the cost-effective way to promote public safety and help break the cycle of addiction that exists in our state.”