Albany near deal to repeal Rockefeller drug laws

Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders say they are near a deal to dismantle the Rockefeller drug laws, which critics say are unnecessarily harsh.
The laws were passed in the 70s to combat a rising tide of heroin use in the state. The laws require mandatory sentencing for certain drug offenses. They earned the moniker Rockefeller drug laws because of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller?s support for the measures.
Lawmakers in Albany are close to abolishing mandatory sentences, which would allow judges to order individuals convicted of minor drug offenses to undergo mandatory counseling instead.
Eric Marsh, a drug counselor, who served several years of an 11-year sentence for his role in a small drug deal, says he knows the realities of the Rockefeller drug laws. He advocates treatment over prison because he says counseling can improve lives, while locking people up just hides the problem.
State Senate Republican Dean Skelos (Rockville Centre) and others oppose the proposed repeal because it could ?put as many as 5,000 drug dealers back on the street.?
District attorneys across New York State are divided on the possible repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws. Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota refused to comment, and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice did not return requests for comment.