In 1973, the same year as the establishment of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller signed Penal Code Title M, Article 220 into law. Nixon had declared the War on Drugs only shortly before (on June 17, 1971); aspiring Republican Rockefeller could hardly buck the trend. (Mr. Rockefeller would ride the Republican ticket right to the position of U.S. Vice President, about a year later.)

The Rockefeller Drug Laws are among the most harshly punitive drug criminalization legislature in the U.S., outstripping even federal penalty severity. Popular features include mandatory minimum sentencing, a "Drug Free School Zone" -style clause, and paraphernalia prohibition (hypodermic needles, scales, packaging including vials, envelopes, and gelatine capsules, etc.)

Probably the most repugnant aspects of the Rockefeller Drug Laws are the mandatory sentencing, and the sentencing structure. Normally, a judge might mandate a course of treatment in lieu of prison time, or reserve harsher sentencing for someone who managed and directed a drug distribution network. Mandatory minimum sentencing eliminates the opportunity for that brand of judicial prudence. Sale of two ounces or possession of four ounces of narcotic is a "Class A" felony, penalized more severely than rape; such disparity is absurd, the tragic senseless sort rather than the funny ha-ha absurd. Racially unequal enforcement, and fostering black market trade and all the attendant corruption, are other serious problems with the Rockefeller laws.

Alone, The Rockefeller Drug Laws are aptly described as "draconian"; the Second Felony Offender Laws, passed the same year, introduced a whole new dimension for any offender so unfortunate as to fall back into drug use and/or dealing after a nice long rot in prison.

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