The Rockefeller Drug Laws were passed in May of 1973 by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The Rockefeller drug laws were enacted to mandate harsh minimum prison terms for the sale and possession of narcotics in New York State. Selling of at least two ounces or possession of at least four ounces, of opium, heroine, morphine, cocaine or cannabis carries a minimum of 15 years to life in prison and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison. Upon the enactment of the Rockefeller drug laws, New York had the toughest drug laws in the nation. Originally intended to target high-level drug dealers, the Rockefeller drug laws affected mostly low-level non-violent offenders. In 1979, the marijuana section of these statutes was repealed by Governor Hugh Carey.
Still, the Rockefeller drug laws are harsh because they force judges to sentence criminals to a mandatory minimum sentence based on the amount of narcotics, regardless of a criminal background or circumstances of the offense. This can also prevent the potential for effective drug treatment.
In 2004, New York Governor George Pataki signed the Drug Law Reform Act (DLRA). The DLRA gave a determinate system for sentencing, which the Rockefeller drug laws did not. The DLRA also reduced the minimum prison sentence for non-violent felony drug offenders. In addition, the DLRA reduced the minimum sentences for those convicted of the most serious drug charges and those serving life sentences received under the Rockefeller drug laws were permitted to apply for resentencing.