BUFFALO, N.Y. – On May 2 and 3, UB and the Drug Policy
Alliance (DPA) will present “Leading the Way: Toward a Public
Health & Safety Approach to Drug Policy in New York,” a
conference designed to convene more than 35 local, state, national,
and international political leaders, government officials,
community organizations, leading academics, service providers,
advocates and others to discuss the need to reform current drug New
York State laws.
This event is free and open to the public but because of space
“Many organizations from across the state that are focused
on law, justice, mental health, alcohol and drug treatment and
recovery, public health and prison reform have joined us in this
important effort to provoke a coordinated approach to drug policy
that prioritizes public health and safety, and to reform the
draconian and destructive Rockefeller drug laws, now notorious
across the nation as an example of the failed ‘war on
drugs,’” says Robert Granfield, UB professor of
sociology and a conference convener.
Conference objectives are to assess the current drug policy in
New York; consider the effectiveness of other approaches and their
applicability here; examine the current national landscape and
emerging developments in drug policy, criminal justice and health;
and discuss evidence-bases strategies for building a coordinate,
health-focused approach to drug policy aimed at prevention,
treatment, harm reduction and public safety.
The conference will open on May 2 with a screening of the
award-winning Eugene Jarecki documentary film “The House I
Live In” from 6-9 p.m. at the Marquis de Lafayette, 391
Washington St., Buffalo. The film has been widely praised by
critics (“destined for the annals of documentary
history”) and called by Forbes magazine “The most
important drug war film you’ll ever see.” Produced by
Danny Glover, John Legend, Brad Pitt and Russell Simmons, it won
the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize.
It will continue on May 3 with panels and plenary discussions
from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center,
2402 North Forest Road, Getzville.
The conference is hosted by the Baldy Center for Law and Social
Policy in the UB Law School and the Drug Policy Alliance;
co-sponsors are the UB School of Public Health and Health
Professions, the UB Civic Engagement and Public Policy Research
Initiative, the UB Department of Sociology, the UB Law School, the
UB Research Institute on Addictions, VOCAL—NY and the Western
New York Peace Center.
“Forty years ago, on May 7, 1973, then-Gov. Nelson
Rockefeller signed legislation establishing a new drug policy in
New York: the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which represented a
criminalization-focused approach to drug policy” Granfield
Other states soon followed New York, beginning what he calls
“America’s unprecedented race to incarcerate.”
Constituting an approach to drug policy focused on criminalization,
the laws mandated long prison terms, even for first-time drug law
Organizers say these laws never achieved their stated intent.
Instead, as Granfield points out, “Drugs remained a
challenging reality in communities across New York, mass
incarceration is now standard practice in cities across the state,
health outcomes have not been substantially improved, and
extraordinary racial discrimination remains a hallmark of the
After decades of advocacy by community groups, service providers
and elected officials, the laws finally were overhauled in 2009.
But while advocates called for a new approach to drug
policy—a coordinated approach that prioritized public health
and safety—much more needs to be done to change New
York’s overall approach. Today, New York’s drug
policies remain fragmented, disconnected and often
In examining New York’s drug policies, the conference will
engage with an upcoming report by the DPA and The New York Academy
of Medicine titled “Blueprint for a Public Health Safety
Approach to Drug Policy.”
On-site contact is Robert Granfield who will be available
by cellphone at 716-628-8861.