Hip-hop legend Russell Simmons has helped to change New York State Law. Thirty-six years ago, the Rockefeller Drug Laws were passed requiring mandatory long prison terms (up to 15 years to life) for the possession or sale of small amounts of drugs. In a press conference this morning, New York Governor David Patterson declared an agreement has been made between his office and state leaders to abolish these laws.

“Ending the Rockefeller Drug Laws is a great victory for the hip-hop community,” declared Simmons in a prepared statement. “We worked hard, turned up the volume on this issue and rejuvenated and broadened the coalition, but it was hip-hop artists like Diddy, Jay-Z and 50 Cent that gave this movement for change the power to wake people up and to get the politicians to do the right thing.”

This has been a 13-year fight for Simmons and other artists from the hip-hop community who came together to bring attention to the thousands of nonviolent first time drug offenders languishing unfairly in prison. In the state of New York, the large majority of those incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws are Black and Latino. Under the new plan, drug treatment programs will be expanded, which will cost the state about $50 million but in the long run, the changes are expected to save the state the $45,000 a year it spends in keeping each of these offenders in prison.—WLW