FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

An End to Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity?

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.

 

August 16, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
“Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare
W. T. Whitney
New Facebook Alliance Endangers Access to News about Latin America
Sam Husseini
The Trump-Media Logrolling
Ramzy Baroud
Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege
Larry Atkins
Why Parkland Students, Not Trump, Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize
William Hartung
Donald Trump, Gunrunner for Hire
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Morality Tales in US Public Life?
Yves Engler
Will Trudeau Stand Up to Mohammad bin Salman?
Vijay Prashad
Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist
Binoy Kampmark
Boris Johnson and the Exploding Burka
Eric Toussaint
Nicaragua: The Evolution of the Government of President Daniel Ortega Since 2007 
Adolf Alzuphar
Days of Sagebrush, Nights of Jasmine in LA
Robert J. Burrowes
A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail