In New York, harsh penalties may fuel lucrative marijuana trade

Since 1996, medical marijuana has been legalized in 18 states and the District of Columbia, according to whitehouse.gov, while two states have legalized adult marijuana use outright and several others have decriminalized possession of the drug in small quantities. In New York, however, no such legislation has been passed.

As reported recently by National Public Radio, the relaxed marijuana laws in other parts of the nation have affected New York's illegal drug trade in a way that few people may have expected: it has made New York an attractive destination for dealers, despite the harsh penalties they may face if they are caught and convicted.

The NPR report profiled "Chuck," a marijuana dealer who previously operated in California. Following California's legalization of medical marijuana, however, Chuck found himself unable to compete against the sudden glut of legal marijuana dispensaries, so he moved his operation to New York. Here, where all marijuana trade takes place on the black market and the risks remain high, prices average 50 to 100 percent higher than in California, Chuck says, making New York an attractive destination for dealers hoping to increase their profit margins by smuggling drugs in from out of state. However, the consequences for those who are caught can be severe.

New York's notorious drug laws draw criticism

Four decades ago, New York was a leader in the nation's "tough-on-crime" movement, particularly with regard to drug-related offenses. A set of sentencing guidelines championed by former Governor Nelson Rockefeller established strict penalties for those convicted of drug crimes in New York, meaning that even low-level offenders often faced long prison sentences.

Although New York's Rockefeller drug laws have been amended several times throughout the years, most recently in 2009, they remain some of the harshest drug laws in the nation. In May 2013, the University of Buffalo hosted a two-day conference on drug reform in New York. The event was attended by a wide range of agencies, political leaders and government officials from the local, national and international communities.

The conference drew representatives from over 35 organizations devoted to issues like mental health, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, public health and other concerns related to New York's stringent drug policy. The stated objectives of the conference included evaluating New York's existing drug laws and considering the likely effectiveness of potential policy changes. Attendees examined national trends in drug policy and discussed potential policy changes that would increase focus on treatment, prevention, public safety and harm reduction.

Legal help for New York drug charges

People questioned by police or charges with drug crimes in New York should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at their earliest opportunity. An attorney with broad experience defending against drug charges can help accused individuals protect their legal rights and wage a vigorous defense against the allegations.