William Fine Dies at 86; Helped Shape NY's Rockefeller Drug Laws

Tuesday, 21 May 2013 11:44 AM

By Michael Mullins

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William Fine, the former magazine publisher and retailer who played a significant role in the development of New York state’s Rockefeller Drug Laws, died Friday in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 86.

Fine died of multiple atrophy syndrome, a degenerative neurological disorder, according to his daughter-in-law Delia, the New York Times reported.

Prior to his contribution to the creation of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, Fine was the publisher behind several magazines for the Hearst Corporation in the 1960s, including Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, and Town & Country.

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Fine also advised the State Department on relationships with Northern Ireland under the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In 2002, the Irish Times singled out Fine, along with four other individuals, for his efforts in the tentative peace reached between the Irish Republican Army and the United Kingdom at the time.

It was however the role he played in the establishment of the Rockefeller Drug Laws for which Fine is most remembered.

In 1972, Fine discussed his son's drug addiction with then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller during a dinner party, according to former Rockefeller aide Joseph E. Persico.

In his 1982 book "Imperial Rockefeller," Persico writes that the conversation prompted the moderate Republican governor to suggest Fine visit Japan, where drug addiction is minimal compared to the United States, and assess what the island nation was doing to prevent widespread drug addiction.

At the time, Fine was already invested in fighting drug addiction, chairing the Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization.

Upon receiving Fine's report, the governor, Persico writes, focused in particular on one aspect: Japan’s imposition of life sentences on drug dealers.

In the report, Fine praised the Japanese for being "willing to give up the soapbox movement on human rights in order to rid the public of the evil abuses of drugs," The Times notes.

At the time, Rockefeller was reportedly frustrated by the state spending more than $1 billion on education and treatment programs for drug addicts with minimal positive results.

On May 8, 1973, the governor signed the legislation into law.

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The Rockefeller Drug Laws, as they became known, were the most stringent drug laws in the U.S. at the time – requiring a minimum prison sentence of 15 years for the sale of two ounces or possession of four ounces of heroin, cocaine or marijuana.

As a result of the law, New York's prison population increased by 500 percent in two decades.

In recent years, Rockefeller's drug laws have been scaled back under intense criticism that they did not work and disproportionately affected minorities.

In his 2009 State of the State address, former New York Gov. David Paterson (D) said: "I can’t think of a criminal justice strategy that has been more unsuccessful than the Rockefeller drug laws."

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