Senator Ted Kaufman is one of the co-sponsors of a bill introduced into the full Senate this week (it was voted out of the Judiciary Committee back in July) that would finally take on the incredible disparities in sentencing for those who are convicted of possession of either drug. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Crime and Drugs Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (D-PA), Judiciary Committee members Feingold (D-WI), Cardin (D-MD), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Franken (D-MN) and original co-sponsors Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Dodd (D-CT) are the current so-sponsors of this bill.
From the release on Senator Kaufman’s website:
Under current law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine (roughly the weight of two sugar cubes) triggers a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while trafficking 500 grams (approximately one pound) of powder cocaine triggers the same sentence. The so-called 100:1 sentencing disparity has been in place since 1986. The Fair Sentencing Act would eliminate the disparity, treating crack and powder cocaine equally.
The disparity in sentencing has had the greatest impact on the African-American community and functionally has done little to deter the use of either crack or cocaine. The old idea that crack is a much worse drug, with more violent users is completely debunked, and as a result, we have prisons filling up with those caught with small doses of crack. And there isn’t a prison system in the US that could not benefit from rethinking how many young, no-violent offenders get sent to jail. The Fair Sentencing Act would (also from the Senator’s press release):
- Eliminate the sentencing disparity by instituting a 1:1 ratio for crack and powder sentencing.
- Increase the quantity of crack cocaine needed to trigger a mandatory sentence. Under this new law, possession of 500 grams of crack and 500 grams of powder cocaine would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. Similarly, 5,000 grams of crack or powder would trigger a 10-year sentence.
- Direct federal resources toward large-scale drug trafficking cases and violent offenders by increasing the number of aggravating factors subject to higher penalties.
Kudos to Senator Kaufman for co-sponsoring this needed legislation. It is well past time to put an end to the preferential treatment of cocaine possession over crack possession. Of course, (in my own opinion, mind you) that the whole War on Drugs is well past time for dismantling, but this is a very good step and I am delighted that at least one of our Senators is working this issue. The Obama Admin has not commented on this bill (and there is another one working its way through the House), but Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division, testified back in April before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs on behalf of reducing the penalty for crack possession. It is a good sign. Even the NJ thinks so!