An editorial in the
New York Daily News
, “Saying Yes to Drugs,” recently warned us thata new bill designed to reform New York’s infamous Rockefeller drug laws and passed in theAssembly, “would push New York dangerously close to decriminalizing even hard-core drugs.”It dubs the legislation, “The Drug Dealer Protection Act” and then enumerates the bill’s horrors,which add up to a “game of Russian roulette.” We should all be scared to death, unless weactually knew that criminalization of drugs, even the really hard core ones, produces the actualcrime of which we should be afraid.Decriminalization of drug use, abuse, and petty possession is the very heart of drug lawreform; it is no secret. Reformation of the Rockefeller laws entails reduction of draconian prisonsentences, restoration of judicial discretion in sentencing offenders, and the realization that druguse and addiction is a medical rather than criminal problem. The
, however, wouldhave you believe that the bill is somehow disingenuous about its decriminalization intentions because “only a close reading of the measure reveals that little-understood provisions” wouldresult in decriminalization. This is a scare tactic.Among the “little-understood provisions” is the elimination of the statutory mandate thatimputes knowing possession to anyone present in a dwelling or vehicle containing narcotics,regardless of who actually owns the drugs. According to the law, presence alone is “presumptiveevidence” of possession. A presumption permits juries to deduce that a defendant knowingly possessed the substance due to his mere presence in the automobile or house, absent proof of actual possession. This presumption is an evidentiary advantage for the prosecution, who must prove every element of the crime, because it is a shortcut in the proof, and an evidentiarydisadvantage to the defendant, who must rebut the presumption in order to counteract its persuasiveness. This places the defendant in the unconstitutional position of proving his owninnocence, which is presumed.