The City Bar Fund, the New York City Bar Association’s charitable sister organization that undertakes public service, education, policy advocacy and research activities, has named Lauren Sampson Vice President, Development and External Relations. Sampson will lead fundraising and outreach efforts for the City Bar Fund.

Sampson brings to the City Bar Fund over a decade of development and donor-relations experience, most recently as Director of Annual Giving and Donor Relations at Cardozo School of Law, where she created and implemented strategic and tactical plans for raising funds for unrestricted and restricted support for the law school. Prior to that, Sampson held fundraising positions at Stevens Institute of Technology, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and Baruch College.

She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Fashion Institute of Technology at the State University of New York.

The City Bar Fund includes four programs: The City Bar Justice Center, which provides and expands access to justice for low-income and disadvantaged New Yorkers citywide by leveraging the pro bono expertise and time of the New York City legal community; the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, which provides pro bono legal support to human rights and environmental organizations in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere in the world; the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, which works with New York City legal employers to foster more diverse and inclusive work environments; and the Lawyer Assistance Program, a free, confidential service, available to attorneys, judges, law students and their family members in New York City who are struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, depression, anxiety, stress, as well as other addictions and mental health issues.

Contributions to the City Bar Fund are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law and are reportable contributions under New York State’s biennial pro bono reporting requirement for attorneys. More information on the City Bar Fund is available here:


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In a report by its Task Force on Climate Adaptation released today, the New York City Bar Association warns that despite the commitments made at the COP21 meeting in Paris to reduce (or ‘mitigate’) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, climate change “will make portions of major cities (and in some cases entire cities) uninhabitable and agricultural areas unproductive, undermining fundamental rights and the rule of law for tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of people and creating explosive conditions that threaten social stability and democracy in many regions of the world.”

To avoid these consequences, according to the report, meaningful climate-related adaptation must be seen as an urgent priority. “Effective urban and rural adaptation will require comprehensive science-based planning, active community participation, expanded infrastructure, reformed title registration, improved judicial institutions and large amounts of financial assistance from the international community,” states the report.

The report cites as the most promising source of financial assistance “an international financial transaction microtax (FTM), which could provide significant funds on the sustained basis necessary to permit eligible local, regional and national governments to plan and implement the multi-year projects required in cities, on farms and among IDPs in their countries. While this proposal may prove controversial, we believe it essential to permit developing countries to have the ability to adapt successfully to a changing world that threatens not only the global environment but also a social order based on law and fundamental human rights.”

The Task Force on Climate Adaptation includes members of the City Bar’s Council on International Affairs, International Human Rights Committee and Environmental Law Committee, as well as other experts, practitioners and legal scholars.

The report can be read here:


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The New York City Bar Association has sent a letter to U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, the Senate’s Majority Leader and Minority Leader respectively, opposing recent congressional proposals to halt or delay U.S. resettlement of refugees from Iraq or Syria.

The letter, signed by City Bar President Debra L. Raskin, states:

By effectively shutting down the process of screening and admitting refugees from these countries, bills such as the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (H.R. 4038), which was recently passed in the House of Representatives, would deny lifesaving humanitarian protection to families fleeing horrific violence in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, these proposals would cause the United States to abandon its commitment to non-discrimination principles and its longstanding role as a leader in international refugee protection, encouraging countries around the world to follow suit. By denying protection to those fleeing persecution by terrorist and violent extremist groups and by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, these proposals would tarnish the image of the United States throughout the world and harm national security. We urge Congress to reject these proposals, and instead to support an increase in refugee admissions.

The letter can be read here.


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The New York City Council has introduced proposed resolution Res. 0551, which would recognize “Meatless Monday,” a national and international campaign that encourages people to enjoy meat-free meals on Mondays to improve their health and to promote animal welfare, wildlife protection and environmental and agricultural sustainability. The resolution seeks to raise awareness of the efforts already underway in restaurants, schools and cafeterias across the city to provide meat-free meals on Mondays, and seeks to expand participation in those efforts citywide.

The Meatless Monday campaign began during World War I as a nationwide rationing effort, and was revived during World War II. In 2003, the organization “The Monday Campaigns” revived the program as a way of improving public health, promoting animal welfare and supporting environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. Since then, “Meatless Monday” proclamations and resolutions have been passed in several U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, South Miami and Washington, D.C.

Approximately 40 schools in New York City already participate in Meatless Monday, including public, private and charter schools at all grade levels. Many New York City colleges and universities have also joined the campaign, including Barnard College, Brooklyn Law School, Columbia University, Fordham University, LaGuardia Community College and Manhattan College. Restaurant owners in New York City including Bill Telepan, Mario Batali, John Fraser and Marisa May likewise participate by offering vegetarian options. According to a 2013 article in Nation’s Restaurant News, many restaurateurs find that Meatless Mondays can be beneficial to business by enticing people to dine out on Monday, a day of the week that can be slow for business.

Benefits for Animals

Almost ten billion animals are slaughtered each year in this country for food. A large percentage of the animals raised for food come from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (commonly known as factory farms), where inhumane practices, such as extreme confinement, are common. By eating less meat, consumers can reduce the number of animals slaughtered each year and possibly have an impact on the number of animals treated inhumanely before slaughter.

Personal Health Benefits

Going meatless one day a week can reduce the risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. A plant-based diet can also offer health benefits in the prevention and treatment of diseases such as heart disease, obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

The Meatless Monday campaign chose Monday because several studies have suggested that people are more likely to adopt other healthy behaviors on Monday than on any other day. According to the Johns Hopkins Meatless Monday Project, which provides technical assistance and scientific expertise to the national Meatless Monday campaign, the Surgeon General’s report Healthy People 2010 “specifically called for a 15% reduction in saturated fat in the American diet. Since saturated fat in the diet is almost exclusively of animal origin and one day of the week is just under 15% of the week, the campaign began by encouraging people to refrain from eating meat one day a week to help reach this goal.”

The 2015 report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the nation’s dietary advisory panel, likewise states that “the U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to dietary patterns that are . . . lower in red and processed meat.” The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issues this report every five years to reflect its updated recommendations to the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services, and the report informs the Dietary Guidelines developed by those agencies. Meatless Monday is an easy and efficient way to encourage New Yorkers to reduce their meat intake, in line with these recommendations.

Benefits for the Environment

A plant-based diet benefits the environment in several ways. For one, it requires fewer resources and causes less pollution than an animal-based diet. Cutting down on meat consumption can also help limit one’s carbon footprint and save resources like fresh water, because the water usage for raising animals for food is much greater than it is for growing vegetables and grains. According to a 2006 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector contributes an estimated 18 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

More recently, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (discussed above) urged consumers to consider the environmental footprint of their food. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends eating less red and processed meat, as the raising of animals for food is a leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and fresh water use, in addition to being a major source of the methane emissions that contribute significantly to climate change.


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With another Election Day behind us, we are thoroughly unsurprised at reports of abysmal voter turnout. As we head toward primary season for the 2016 elections, now seems a good time to reflect on why this is and to review an issue of great importance to the New York City Bar Association: election law reform.

The City Bar has long championed support for election law reform at the city, state and federal levels. As we are all too aware, running an effective political campaign is costly; candidates must spend an enormous amount of time on fundraising and those who are not willing or able to attract large donors may be foreclosed from running for office. The existing campaign finance system favors incumbents and gives large donors unparalleled access to candidates who, once they are elected, have the power to regulate those very individuals and organizations that provided the funding to help get them elected to office. The appearance of impropriety created by the enormous sums of money flowing through our electoral process contributes to the public’s growing cynicism and skepticism about the integrity of our political system, and undoubtedly lends to the ennui and diminishing voter turnout that we are seeing both in New York and across the nation.

In the last few years, the City Bar has redoubled its efforts to bring about meaningful ethics, rules and campaign finance reform in New York State. In the wake of a seemingly endless line of corruption and other charges levied against members of the Legislature, the City Bar reaffirmed its position that legislator disclosure laws must be strengthened to ensure transparency and public confidence in the governing process. We also championed the need for a single independent agency to oversee and enforce ethics laws for the Executive, Legislature and lobbyists. After the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) was established in 2011, we analyzed its impact and issued recommendations on how to strengthen JCOPE to make it more effective, both without legislative intervention as well as with necessary legislative amendments to ensure that it operates independently.

We continue to support public campaign financing in New York elections. We believe many of the problems inherent in our current system could be solved through stricter limits on political contributions, enhanced disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures, more effective enforcement of campaign financing laws, curbs on transfers by legislative party committees, effective regulation of “independent” expenditures on campaigns, and stricter controls over the use of funds raised for campaigns.

At the city level, we have urged the City Council and the Mayor to implement multiple measures to increase voter registration and turnout, including in-person early voting (permitting voters to vote early without having to provide an “excuse” or explanation); no-excuse absentee balloting (permitting voters to vote for city officials by absentee ballot, for any reason); same-day Election Day registration and automatic or online voter registration (currently, New York law requires voters to register at least 25 days before an election); and “instant runoffs” (enabling voters in primary elections for city offices to vote for both their first and second choices, to avoid the administrative difficulties and duplication required by having a second runoff election if no candidate emerges with 40% of the primary vote).

And, at the federal level, we have urged Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore some of the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were eviscerated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.  The Shelby decision struck down as unconstitutional the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which designated all or parts of 15 states—including Bronx, Kings and New York Counties—as subject to federal oversight when making changes in election laws.  This, in turn, rendered obsolete Section 5 of the VRA which requires those jurisdictions identified under Section 4’s formula to obtain “preclearance” from the Attorney General or a three-judge panel in the District of Columbia to ensure that changes in voting laws do not have a discriminatory effect.  However, there is evidence that discrimination against minorities and non-English speakers remains prevalent in many jurisdictions, including in New York State, making continued federal protection of voting rights crucial.

Finally, and remarkably, New Yorkers still face separate primary days for both federal and state officers and party positions. Currently, New York holds its primaries for public office in state and local municipalities and for party positions (other than President and National Convention delegates and alternates) in September, while primaries for public offices at the federal level are held in June. This creates the possibility of as many as three primaries in a given calendar year, as was the case in the 2012 election cycle. Getting voters to the polls once a year is hard enough; getting them to the polls two or three times a year is clearly asking too much, as evidenced by the 2012 voter turnout numbers (10% of eligible NYC voters voted in the June federal primary and September state primary, and only 6% in the April Presidential primary). There is legislation pending in Albany to set the fourth Tuesday in June as a single primary day and the City Bar supports it.  Of course, as with any legislative solution to a thorny problem, it is not perfect and some see downsides to moving the September primary to June. However, on balance and after careful consideration, we decided to support the bill as an important step towards improving New York’s electoral process.

The City Bar will continue to work on election law reform in 2016 and beyond. Ultimately, we believe, bringing more integrity to the electoral process will attract more voters to the voting booth and more candidates to the campaign trail.

Debra L. Raskin is President of the New York City Bar Association


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By Elizabeth Kocienda and Kent Eiler

As we pause this Veterans Day to honor the service and sacrifice of both active duty and retired service members and their families, we would like to take this opportunity to talk about what we can do as lawyers to support them. Here at the City Bar, those efforts are led by our Military Affairs and Justice Committee and the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project.  Our committee members and dedicated staff strive to advocate for commonsense policies to promote the well-being of the military community and provide pro bono legal services for low-income veterans.

The Military Affairs and Justice Committee works at the state and federal level to address legal and policy issues affecting the United States armed services. Through a combination of educational events, substantive reports and direct advocacy, the Committee aims to bring attention and promote change on a wide range of issues affecting military members and their families. The Committee has issued reports to support the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and to ensure voting rights for service members. In collaboration with the Sex and Law Committee, the Committee issued a series of reports to address the myriad issues surrounding sexual assault in the military. Included in their work was support for the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would change the designation of key decision-making authority for courts martial, and recommendations to the Military Justice Review Group on ways to improve the military justice system.

Most recently, the Committee has focused their efforts on improving the lives of military personnel and their families stationed in New York. Led by the NY Military Families Subcommittee, the Committee has supported state legislation that would ease the process by which a military spouse obtains a professional license, certification or registration. Licensure constraints represent one of the most significant financial hurdles for military families. By allowing military spouses who already have an out-of-state license that meets or exceeds New York’s standards to begin working sooner, the legislation would remove a significant and unnecessary burden for military families ordered to New York. Over the past year, the Committee has written a report, multiple letters and an op-ed, while securing the support of a number of organizations, including the White House, and advocating for the bill’s passage in Albany. Given the unanimous support the legislation received in the Senate during the past two sessions and the fact that New York is the only state that does not provide a level of licensure reciprocity for military spouses, the Committee is hopeful the bill will move forward and secure support from the Assembly and Governor in 2016.

In addition to supporting these legislative and policy changes, the City Bar Justice Center aims to promote the well being of our nation’s veterans through the Veterans Assistance Project (VAP).  VAP was launched in October 2007 and is designed to meet the needs of the approximately 200,000 veterans living in New York City by providing low income veterans with pro bono assistance with disability benefits claims before the New York City Regional Office of Veterans Affairs. Through its free intake hotline and monthly legal clinics, VAP provides brief advice and services, assesses possible legal remedies and helps veterans file claims and appeals with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Assistance can range from locating service documents and medical records, to preparing and filing claims, to directly representing veterans at hearings. The Project is also designed to be flexible so it can respond to the constantly shifting needs of the veteran population. One such example is its work over recent years to help veterans who were sexually assaulted during their time in the military with their Military Sexual Trauma (MST) claims.

Since its inception, VAP has helped more than 1,200 veterans, with approximately $3.8 million in retroactive benefits recovered for its clients in addition to ongoing disability benefits.

Today, on Veterans Day, VAP is rolling out a new informational video series that will provide background information on veterans law issues to veterans, veterans’ families, and their supporters.

The City Bar is proud to support members of the U.S. armed forces and their families through the services of its Military Affairs and Justice Committee and Veterans Assistance Project.

Elizabeth Kocienda is the City Bar’s Associate Director of Advocacy, and Kent Eiler is the Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project


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The New York City Bar Association has evaluated candidates recommended by the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination for appointment as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy created by the mandatory-age retirement of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.  The Association uses a two-tiered rating system to rate the candidates: Well Qualified and Not Well Qualified.  The following are the City Bar’s ratings of the seven candidates:

  • Hon. Janet DiFiore – Well Qualified
  • Carey R. Dunne – Well Qualified
  • Michael J. Garcia – Well Qualified
  • Caitlin J. Halligan – Well Qualified
  • Hon. A. Gail Prudenti – Well Qualified
  • Rowan D. Wilson – Well Qualified
  • Stephen P. Younger – Well Qualified

The Association’s Executive Committee extensively reviewed the background and qualifications of the candidates. Representatives of the Association’s Executive, Judiciary and State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction Committees interviewed each candidate and, for all candidates, reviewed their writings, investigated their background, and interviewed judges and lawyers familiar with the candidates. The full Executive Committee then considered whether to rate each candidate “Well Qualified” or “Not Well Qualified” for the position of Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals after considering the candidate’s intellectual ability, knowledge of the law, integrity, impartiality, judicial demeanor and temperament. In addition, in evaluating a candidate for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, the Executive Committee considers that the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is also Chief Judge of the State of New York, with the oversight and administrative powers and responsibilities that accompany this position.

This two-tiered rating was adopted by the Executive Committee in May 2014.  The criteria for each rating are as follows:

“Well Qualified”:  Consistent with the term “Well Qualified” as it is set forth in describing the Commission’s mandate in Judiciary Law Section 63(1) and in Article 6, Section 2 of the Constitution: candidates “who by their character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience are well qualified to hold such judicial office.”

“Not Well Qualified”:  Candidates who may be competent lawyers or judges but, in the judgment of the Executive Committee, do not meet the requisite standard for “Well Qualified” in one or more of the constitutional and statutory criteria of “character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience.”

The Governor must appoint one of the candidates by no sooner than November 15th and no later than December 1st, and the State Senate must confirm or reject the Governor’s appointee no later than 30 days after receipt of that appointment. We urge the Governor and the Senate to act expeditiously and to meet these deadlines so that a new Chief Judge is sitting by January 1, 2016.

Note: To ensure the integrity of the ratings process, the City Bar cannot comment beyond what is provided herein.


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By Mary Margulis-Ohnuma

On October 21st, I attended a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York entitled, the “Sixth Civil Society Hearing in preparation for the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs.”  It was hosted by the Civil Society Task Force (CSTF) for UNGASS 2016, a group that was formed by the New York NGO Committee on Drugs (of which City Bar Committee on Drugs & the Law member Heather Haase is the Chair) and the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs. The CSTF’s membership includes representatives from NGOs around the world with a focus on analyzing and shaping global drug policy.  These meetings are being held to prepare for the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), which will take place in April 2016.

The October 21 NGO hearing panelists included members of the CSTF as well as activists and UN officers.  The CSTF presented its conclusions and findings from its Global Civil Society Survey, an online survey translated into 11 languages and conducted over three months earlier this year of NGOs around the world that are involved in drug-related fields.  The survey called for responses in five thematic areas that will be the focus of the April 2016 UNGASS:  drugs and health; drugs and crime; human rights, women, children and communities; new challenges; and alternative development.

Preliminary Report on Global Civil Society Survey
Dr. Sheila Vakharia of Long Island University presented a Preliminary Report on the findings of the survey.

In the area of Drugs & Health, there was a call for increased support, funding and development of evidence-based and evidence-informed drug prevention initiatives.  In particular, the need for early intervention and education of youth and at-risk adults was highlighted as a cornerstone for drug prevention.   Those surveyed raised the recurring theme of the need for a “health response” to the drug problem— rather than criminal prosecution— and that alternatives to incarceration, including treatment and rehabilitation services, are crucial.  Moreover, those surveyed raised the issue of the stigma associated with drugs, which is worsened by the criminalization of drugs, and which has long-term negative consequences on the health of drug-addicted people who may avoid accessing health services and/or suffer discrimination and ill treatment by health care providers.

On the theme of Drugs & Crime, survey respondents raised the issues of unequal enforcement of drug policies and disparate sentencing; the connection between drug trafficking, human trafficking and sex trafficking; and concerns that the current prohibition policies fund organized crime and terrorism.  There was a call for data to be collected on the economic and social impact of current drug policy, including the costs of mass incarceration.

With respect to Human Rights, Women, Children and Communities, survey respondents were overwhelmingly in favor of eliminating the death penalty for drug offenses; noted that the current prohibition policy “ignores human rights of people suffering dependency”; and stated that drug users “should be entitled to programs to improve their health and well-being, access to their basic necessities for livelihood, fair legal trials, proportionate sentences, and freedom from torture or mistreatment.”  In particular, they would like to see the UN Office on Drugs and Crime develop guidelines tailored to treating and protecting young people from the impact of drugs.  Respondents also called for gender sensitivity in drug policy, noting that women addicted to drugs have unique needs; for example, pregnant women and women with children need gender-specific health and social services.  Survey results also underscored the need for increased awareness and focus on traditionally marginalized populations that are disproportionately impacted by drug policies, i.e., LGBT individuals, sex workers, older adults, and people with chronic pain and health issues.

As for New Challenges, those surveyed noted that there are new psychoactive substances that need to be better understood and addressed; that there is a need for guidelines and possibly reinterpretation of the existing Conventions on drugs and drug policy; and that there are diverse views on decriminalization vs. regulation.

And on the topic of Alternative Development, the respondents highlighted several areas for further study and development, including:  the intersection of drugs, development, poverty and the environment; the need to look at “indigenous communities, traditional use, and sustainable community approaches”; and the need to come up with viable alternatives so farmers can transition to farming of legal crops.

Highlights from the Panel
Andrea Huber, of Penal Reform International (PRI), spoke about the impact of world drug policies on human rights.  PRI did a study which concluded that the “war on drugs” has not made society safer, and that the current punitive approach has led to the erosion of human rights and overcrowding in prisons.  They want to see possession of drugs for personal use decriminalized, and sentencing that is gender-sensitive and takes the impact on society into account (e.g., imprisoning parents is not in the best interests of children).  She also noted that there is an overlap between women imprisoned for drug crimes and sexual exploitation, and that drug policies need to be sensitive to this issue.

Dr. Gregory Bunt, of the International Society of Addiction Medicine, noted that addiction is a treatable disease, and that policymakers need to be educated on the importance of access to effective treatment and to move global drug policy away from criminal prosecution.  He also noted that drug treatment and policies need to be modified for different people – i.e., that pregnant women and children need specialized treatment – and that addictions disproportionately affect vulnerable populations (poor, children, mentally ill). Dr. Bunt explained that addiction leads to erosion of character and values, which can then lead to criminal behavior, and that those suffering from addiction do not have access to cost-effective treatment as an alternative to harsh criminal penalties and incarceration.  However, there are cost-effective treatment options that can, and should, be made available:  for example, there are new medications to treat opiate addictions and alcoholism, and new medications being studied to treat cocaine addiction; Naloxone, an opiate blocker, should be made more widely available to reduce the number of overdose deaths; and more resources should be spent on developing therapeutic communities and recovery networks, i.e., people who overcame addictions and can serve as role models and mentors.  Harm reduction and a continuum of care are important, cost-effective ways to end addiction.

Andrea James, a former lawyer who spent two years in the federal women’s correctional facility in Danbury, talked about the dehumanizing effect of imprisonment and the unique issues that women in prison face— for example, that imprisonment during childbearing years may mean the loss of any opportunity to have children; that imprisonment may mean separation from nursing infants and young children, and the erosion of the family structure; that children suffer ongoing social problems when their mothers are incarcerated; that pregnant women are still routinely shackled while in labor; that women lack adequate feminine hygiene products in prison; that incarcerated women are a particularly vulnerable population and endure harassment and rape; and that women of color, who already suffer discrimination in terms of employment rate and pay scale, suffer added and sometimes insurmountable problems in finding employment and adequate housing for themselves and their children after a drug-related criminal conviction.

In addition, CSTF members Eze Eluchie, CSTF Representative for Sub-Saharan Africa, and Khuat Thi Hai Oanh, CSTF Representative for Southeast and East Asia, delivered video messages on the ongoing NGO consultations in their regions, and Dr. Emmanuel Luyirika, Executive Director of the African Palliative Care Association appeared in a video message in which he discussed the need for safe, effective access to controlled medicines in Africa.

The meeting highlighted the fact that many NGOs focused on the social and human rights implications of the existing global drug policy observe that the current systems are not working—that drug production, addiction, violence and drug crimes continue to wreak havoc on our communities, and that punitive approaches are not alleviating the problem (and may be exacerbating it).  These groups hope to make meaningful contributions to reshaping international drug policy through studies, surveys, discussions and participation at meetings like the UNGASS, in hopes of redirecting efforts away from criminalization and incarceration and toward treatment and prevention.  There will be additional discussion forums and hearings leading up to the UNGASS in April 2016 in which the groups will continue to discuss and develop their goals and strategies.

City Bar Efforts on Drug Policy Reform
The City Bar has a solid history of advocating for drug policy reform.  In 1994, our Drugs & the Law Committee published a report entitled, “A Wiser Course:  Ending Drug Prohibition,” which argued that the model of prohibition and punishment has not worked to eradicate the drug problem but, instead, has led to court congestion, a “prison state,” erosion of the rule of law and civil liberties, a disproportionate impact on minorities, prohibition-induced violence, spread of disease through shared needles, and diversion of resources that would be better spent on treatment and prevention.  The report called for treating drugs as a public health problem rather than strictly a criminal law problem.  And, in addition to prevention and treatment, the report underscored the importance of education, rehabilitation and reentry programs.

In 2009, the committee published a follow-up, “A Wiser Course:  Ending Drug Prohibition, 15 Years Later,” in which it renewed its call for a serious overhaul of U.S. drug policy, including the need to revamp the Controlled Substances Act and address social problems caused by current drug policies (rise of international drug cartels, overburdened prison system, broken families).

And in 2012, the committee published a report on the international drug control treaties, how they shape (and, at some level, dictate) U.S. drug policy, and how domestic drug policy reform depends in large part on a global paradigm shift.  Last month, the City Bar issued a report entitled, “Mass Incarceration: Seizing the Moment for Reform,” which calls on federal and state leaders to “make the reduction of mass incarceration a top priority,” particularly with respect to nonviolent low-level drug offenders.  The report identifies multiple areas for reform, including: repealing or reducing mandatory minimum sentencing provisions; reducing sentences for non-violent offenses; expanding sentencing alternatives to prison, including drug programs, mental health programs and job training; expanding the availability of rehabilitative services, including counseling and educational opportunities, so that individuals can successfully re-enter society and avoid recidivism; eliminating or reducing financial conditions of pretrial release; providing opportunities for individuals with misdemeanor and non-violent felony convictions to seal those records to prevent employment and other types of discrimination; and, in New York, enacting legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 16 to 18 years old.  The City Bar also announced the formation of a Mass Incarceration Task Force made up of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and other experts to further address these issues and advocate for change at the city, state and federal levels.

The City Bar also sponsors panels to explore these issues, including an upcoming event on November 10th entitled “What’s New in New York City Cannabis Policy.”

We look forward to continued multinational dialogue on drug policy and reform, and hope to see long-awaited calls for change implemented at both the national and global levels as the City Bar continues to advocate for solutions in this area.

Mary Margulis-Ohnuma is Policy Counsel at the New York City Bar Association


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