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Arrests of undergrads at Columbia University test reformed drug laws

Arrests of undergrads at Columbia University test reformed drug laws

Five undergraduate students from Columbia University in New York City were arrested in December as a part of one of the largest drug arrests at an institution of higher learning in the city. Each of the five students were arrested for drug crimes related to the sale of drugs such as LSD, marijuana, cocaine, prescription stimulants and ecstasy. The cases of the five students will be closely scrutinized because the circumstances of the arrests present a chance for the application of New York’s reformed drug laws.

The previous regime of drug laws in New York were referred to as the Rockefeller drug laws, which were passed in 1973 and named after New York’s governor at the time, Nelson Rockefeller. The drug laws were strict and were passed in response to what was called a drug-related “reign of terror.” Critics of the laws argued the laws were unfairly harsh and racist. Critics also argued that the laws imprisoned people who needed treatment. In 2004, the most extreme aspects of the laws were changed and in 2009 aspects of the laws that required mandatory minimum sentences were altered.

The most recent changes of the laws give judges the ability to decide whether nonviolent drug offenders should be sent to treatment programs or other alternatives to jail. The philosophy behind the latest changes of the laws is that an offender’s issue with addiction can be more effectively addressed through treatment than jail time.

The five students participated in 31 drug sales where they sold $11,000 worth of drugs to an undercover officer. Only one of the students currently faces prison time.

Source: The Associated Press, “Ivy League drug dealing arrests test overhaul of New York’s tough Rockefeller drug laws,” Jennifer Peltz, 1/30/11

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