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Blueprint Report Addresses NY Drug Policy

A new report offers recommendations that its authors believe could make New York a national model by shifting drug policy from a criminalization-based to a public health-based approach.

The New York Academy of Medicine and the Drug Policy Alliance have released a joint report, entitled "Blueprint for a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy" -  almost 40 years to the day after Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed his eponymous drug laws, a "lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key" approach that was adopted nationwide in the ensuing decades, leading the U.S. to incarcerate more of its own citizens than any other country in the world.

The report suggests a more equitable, cost-effective, and evidence-based approach to drug law enforcement. Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, says it's time New York moved in that direction. Sayegh says the report reveals that "race and place" matter.

The report includes a detailed list of recommendations for action that will move New York State and New York City from a criminalization to a public health and safety approach to drug policy.

Dr. Ruth Finkelstein, Senior Vice President for Policy and Planning at the New York Academy of Medicine, says that when people are seeking drug treatment, they encounter sanctions and difficulties, underscoring the need for a socially-supportive recovery system.

Finkelstein says current policy turns drug users into high-cost users of multiple systems. Albany County District Attorney David Soares says the criminal justice system is not designed to provide health care.

Shawn Bushway, a Professor of Criminal Justice at UAlbany, says the report acknowledges that New York probably has the most extensive set of drug treatment options available for people both inside and out of the criminal justice system of any place in the country.

Marijuana has been decriminalized since 1977. The report says a loophole allows police to arrest tens of thousands every year – mostly young people of color. It calls on Governor Andrew Cuomo to convene policy-makers and agency officials across sectors to coordinate implementation of a unified approach to drug policy, and "fix" what it calls New York's "broken" marijuana possession law.

It is unclear how law enforcement will react to the report. Several law enforcement agencies contacted by WAMC declined comment until they have time to examine the document. You can take a look at a PDF version of the paper HERE.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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