“I am very proud to say that it is the City Council that is taking action on this,” said Councilmember Margarita Lopez (D-Lower East Side), a lesbian. “I am moving forward with a $1 million initiative to provide treatment for crystal meth users.
Lopez was joined by Councilmember Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea), who is also a lesbian, and representatives from AIDS and anti-crystal groups at a June 15 press conference on the steps of City Hall.
Lopez would not say what proportion of the cash would go for prevention and how much for treatment, but she said the other members of the 51-seat City Council were supportive.
“That money is exclusively and only for treatment and education,” she said. “I will be very much involved in how it is going to be divided.”
To date, the Bloomberg administration has spent just $300,000 on anti-crystal efforts, is a one-time expenditure that will run out by the end of 2004. Jordan Barowitz, a mayoral spokesperson, said the mayor was not necessarily opposed to the new funding.
“If the Council makes this a priority we will certainly negotiate on it,” Barowitz said. “It’s part of the larger conversation about the city’s budget.”
The $1 million windfall, however, was not the focus of the June 15 press conference which was mostly concerned with a June 8 Pataki proposal that increases prison sentences for people who operate meth labs and for those who steal or possess stolen anhydrous ammonia, a chemical used in cooking batches of meth.
New York meth lab seizures went from 2 in 1999 to 73 in 2003, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but Anthony P. Placido, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York Field Division said at an April 22 City Council hearing that all of those labs “were of the small toxic variety.” Most of the crystal used in New York City comes from so-called “super labs” in the Southwest and Mexico.
“[Placido] has stated that in the past,” a DEA spokesperson said. “He has stated that the majority of the meth coming into the city is from super labs, not the mom and pop labs in New York State.”
Placido approved of the Pataki proposal in one published report, but whether it will have an impact on New York City’s meth supply remains a question. That was a point of contention at the press conference.
“He’s going to stop the production upstate, but he doesn’t care about New York City,” Lopez said. “He doesn’t give a damn about New York City.”
The Pataki proposal was also roundly criticized for emphasizing a law enforcement response and not increasing funding for meth treatment or prevention even as it appeared to acknowledge a serious problem.
“Every time we focus on a drug problem exclusively with law enforcement, only with prosecutions and arrests, we have seen that drug problem worsen,” Quinn said. “The council has a much more humane and comprehensive view of how to deal with the drug problems in this city.”
Representatives at the press conference from the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the Crystal Meth Working Group, and the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center also criticized the proposal.
“Governor Pataki’s recent announcement sadly does not address the human aspect of the crystal meth crisis which is treatment,” said Ronald Johnson, GMHC’s associate executive director. “New York State must make treatment a priority. Solely targeting distributors will not erase New York’s growing crystal meth problem.”
Peter Staley, a member of the crystal working group, offered a similar criticism.
“Crystal meth is being called the new crack and unfortunately many of our politicians are treating crystal like they did crack which is a tough-on-crime approach,” he said. “Pataki didn’t mention anything about prevention or treatment which is what New York City needs.”
Jessica Scaperotti, spokesperson for the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, said the proposed legislation was intended to attack the meth labs.
“The governor’s bill specifically addresses the growing problem of crystal meth production in many New York State communities,” she said. “It is specifically looking to crack down on the creation of the drug before it is peddled on the streets.” Nor did this legislation mean that Pataki had foreclosed talks about other responses to crystal meth, Scaperotti said.
“As always the administration welcomes constructive ideas and discussion on important criminal justice initiatives and we are always eager to continue that dialogue so we can create and propose legislation to protect all New Yorkers,” she said.