FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

An End to Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity?

by JASMINE TYLER And ANTHONY PAPA

On President Obama’s 100th day in office the White House asked Congress to address the issue of disparity in penalties for the use of powder/crack cocaine. This historic request follows a national lobby day held yesterday that was co-sponsored by a dozen advocacy groups.

The day brought together voters from Utah, California, Oklahoma, New Jersey, South Carolina and other states to pressure key members of Congress to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

The groups held a breakfast briefing with members of congress and victims of the federal disparity on Tuesday morning. Chocolate bars weighing fifty grams, the equivalent weight that would trigger a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence for crack cocaine, were on hand to demonstrate to members of Congress just how small that quantity is compared to the 5000 grams – five kilos – of powered cocaine that garners the same penalty.

The 1986 and 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Acts created a disparity in sentencing between two forms of cocaine, crack cocaine and powder, at the federal level even though scientific evidence, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has proven that crack and powder cocaine have similar physiological and psychoactive effects on the human body. It takes only five grams of crack cocaine (the equivalent of the contents of two sugar packets) to receive a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same sentence.

As a presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama said the “war on drugs is an utter failure” and that he believes in “shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public health approach.” He also called for eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, repealing the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, and stopping the U.S. Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws (though the Justice Department has continued to pursue punitive sentences in medical pot cases in California). Within 24 hours of taking office, the White House website made clear that Obama’s campaign commitments to eliminate both the crack/powder disparity and the ban on syringe exchange funding were now official administration policy.

The Obama Administration has articulated the need to address this issue by completely eliminating the disparity. Current penalties for crack cocaine are excessively harsh and have little to do with an individual’s actual culpability and more to do with the color of their skin. It’s not fair and it’s not working. While two-thirds of crack cocaine users are white or Latino according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 80 percent of those convicted in federal court for crack cocaine offenses in 2006 were African American.

Last year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission moderately reduced sentences for crack cocaine offenses and the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that judges have the right to sentence people below the guidelines in Kimbrough v. the United States. However, judicial discretion is still undermined by the statutory mandatory minimum sentences that Congress enacted over 20 years ago, and those mandatory minimums are the source of the crack/powder disparity.

Thus far, two legislative proposals have been re-introduced in the House — one by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-TX, and one by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-VA. Both would end the disparity between powder and crack cocaine sentences. The Senate Crime and Drugs subcommittee will hold a hearing to discuss crack cocaine sentencing on Wednesday, April 29. The House Crime, Terror and Homeland Security committee also will hold a hearing on this issue on May 21.

The stars are aligning to ensure Americans will no longer be subjected to the same draconian policy set in the late 80s, which flies in the face of scientific and legal research. Congress and the administration have an obligation to fix this and show the country that our criminal justice practices will be fair and sentences proportional to the offense. We can no longer prioritize precious federal resources solely on the incarceration of individuals who are low-level, nonviolent drug users and sellers nor permit any racial group to continue to be unjustly targeted.

Jasmine L. Tyler is the Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. Anthony Papa is the author 15 to Life.

 

May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s Slurs Against China
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail