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New York eases 1970s drug laws

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York state officials agreed on Friday to relax harsh 1970s drug laws that required prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes in favor of laws that will let judges send addicts to treatment programs.

The new regulations will save the state about "a quarter of a billion dollars" a year in costs for housing prisoners, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith said at a news conference in Albany, the state capital.

The existing laws -- known as the Rockefeller drug laws for Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller who in 1973 said they were needed to fight a heroin epidemic -- were considered among the nation's stiffest because they required prison terms for offenders and gave judges no discretion in sentencing.

They had been the target of Democrats for years but previous legislative efforts had produced only limited softening.

A joint release from Paterson, the state Senate and Assembly said the agreement eliminates mandatory prison sentences for many first- and second-time offenders and makes them eligible for probation that could include drug treatment.

"This will probably be part of the budget because it does involve some funding," Paterson told reporters.

http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSTRE52Q5XM200...