SARANAC LAKE -- Governor David Paterson announced last week the easement of decades-old drug laws that some have called the strictest in the United States.
While the decision has been widely applauded, some area prosecutors have voiced concern that the reform sends the wrong message to children and adolescents. Additionally, some worry that the laws will embolden dealers.
Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne says a dealer could be arrested with 650 hits of heroine or over 850 hits of cocaine and walk away with probation.
"Just say you're an addict and probation is now an option," Champagne said. "The message they are now sending to our children is that drugs are not bad."
Supporters of the reform say the core issue with drugs is addiction - a "treatable illness." Studies show that treatment, rather than prison, is a more effective path in solving an individual's drug problem.
But Champagne thinks drug dealers who might not be addicts themselves will take advantage of the law to avoid jail time.
"Drug dealers that prosecutors believed to be dangerous will now be able to argue that they sold because they had an addiction and take advantage of these new statutes," he said.
"Do we honestly believe that they will not claim addiction under these new statutes?" Champagne asked.
One impetus for the reform is the bloated prison population across New York State and the nation. State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith says it costs the state nearly $45,000 a year to house offenders. The new rules could reduce the state's prison population by 10,000.
"That's a huge savings for the state," Smith said.
According to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, residential drug treatment costs $15,000, or one-third of the cost of prison.
Still, Champagne is skeptical.
"I have not heard of any aspect of the proposal which will provide money to our probation departments," he said. "So once again, local taxpayers will have to absorb the cost."
Furthermore, Champagne says dealers who are not addicts will receive lesser sentences.
"Prosecutors have lost their voice in Public Safety today," Champagne said. "More importantly, the public safety of our streets and our children has been seriously compromised by this legislation."
Champagne hopes area politicians will vote down the proposed reform.
"While their vote is likely futile, I hope our North Country Representatives do not support this agreement," he said.