Fixing the Unfair Crack vs Cocaine Penalties

Filed in National by on October 17, 2009

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!

Tags: ,

About the Author ()

"You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas." -Shirley Chisholm

Comments (18)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Jason330 says:

    The NJ editorial didn’t state that there might be some better “middle course.” They must be on crack this week.

  2. It’s long overdue. I’m surprised the NJ isn’t writing an editorial that we shouldn’t rush this.

  3. Kilroy says:

    OMG! Where have you people been? Copeland was on this years ago but way beyond drug offenses. Ted Kaufman is clueless! I was at this litte Italian place near Trolley Square in the “private room” and Kaufman was there talking clueless garbage. I am glad Biden’s pool boy won’t be running. Does anybody remember the upstairs lounge at the old Stone Ballon? The secrets didn’t go away when they torn it down.

  4. Joanne Christian says:

    Kilroy- remember when it was the polio vaccine on the sugar cube? Just a flashback here.

  5. Kilroy says:

    Comment by Joanne Christian
    “Kilroy- remember when it was the polio vaccine on the sugar cube? Just a flashback here.”

    What! They told me it was a little orange sunshine, LOL
    Now come on you know all about the upstairs lounge at the old Stone Balloon. Don’t tell me you don’t know the Stone Balloon connection to the White House? There is a little meeting place in trolley square.

  6. Deborah says:

    Come on………..non violent offenders do NOT belong in prison… it is a drain on taxpayer dollars and prevents them from being taxpayer citizens………It’s time for our Government to STOP punishing and start THINKING in regards to non violent offenders…..Geez!

  7. Kilroy says:

    Comment by Deborah
    “It’s time for our Government to STOP punishing and start THINKING in regards to non violent offenders…..Geez!”

    AMEN !

  8. RICO says:

    how many doses in a gram of coke?

    how many doses in a gram of crack?

    the point of the law is to identify dealers by volume of possesion.

    so one of you crack heads fill us in… what’s the apples to apples comparison?

  9. V says:

    This law disparity has always been unfair. I’m really surprised no one got on this sooner, they’ve been talking about this problem in intro criminal justice classes for years now.
    Our prisons have filled with non-violent drug offenders, there are more of them in prisons than there are violent felony criminals (rapists, murders, etc.). Some go inside a minor pot dealer and either become violent to survive or get an education in trafficking harder drugs from their new friends in prison. These mandatory sentences are actually making the war on drugs WORSE by creating nastier criminals and any step to stop it is a step in the right direction.

  10. Joanne Christian says:

    And while they are at it–please return Sudafed back to the regular drug aisle, and out from behind the counter. Some of us women have no time to tend to homemade crack labs, and need the drug for real symptomatic relief of colds. Thank you.

  11. anon says:

    please return Sudafed back to the regular drug aisle


    The anti-Sudafed law has had the effect of shutting down the producers of generic Sudafed as well as Actifed, which is the only thing that works for my occasional acute hay fever. Now they are always out of the expensive name brand stuff and are lackadaisical about re-ordering it.

    But, the makers of Sudafed have conveniently put a new placebo product into the old Sudafed box which IS sold in the aisles. Except that it doesn’t work. I call it “SudaFraud.”

  12. anon says:

    The anti-Sudafed law has had the effect of shutting down the producers of generic Sudafed as well as Actifed

    Hmmm…. now that I think about that a minute….

  13. cassandra m says:

    The Sudafed (and other stuff) behind the counter is often a pain for people with families — colds and flu tend to run through families, so it is not only annoying to have to show your papers to get the drugs, but also nerve-wracking since you are likely to be a frequent customer for a week or two or three.

    Besides, there is a new method of making meth that only needs a few pills and no lab, so the workaround is already here.

  14. Joanne Christian says:

    YES!! Vindicated by Cass!!!! it’s going to be a great day:)!

  15. nemski says:

    Besides, there is a new method of making meth that only needs a few pills and no lab, so the workaround is already here.

    Do tell.

  16. cassandra m says:

    Shake ‘n Bake

    I totally do NOT want to know if you do this!

  17. cassandra m says:

    Joanne — a friend of mine had her whole family come down with the flu a year or two back and she or her husband were actually working out a schedule to go get cold meds and she was really nervous that someone would show up at her door because they bought so may drugs in a few weeks’ time. Treating people like the criminals is one thing and treating people like criminals when they are just trying to take care of their families is just stupid.

  18. anon says:

    Since the generics are hard to find, I try to stock up when I find them. During one family cold bout I actually printed out the law and brought it to the pharmacy. Their policy was to sell only a certain number of boxes at a time, which turned out to be way less than the number of grams permitted by law. But the law had no effect on the clerk. I guess they weren’t taking any chances.