If you told me a year ago we were near a tipping point in Congress on rolling back one of the worst excesses of the war on drugs, I probably would have thought you were crazy. But the movement to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity has grown so strong that Senators are tripping over themselves to support reform. Three different bi-partisan reform bills have already been introduced in the Senate - all by unlikely allies - and the Judiciary Committee is set to have hearings on the issue in September. Please take a minute today to fax your Senators and help build momentum against these draconian mandatory minimums.
Take action now.
Crack cocaine and powder cocaine are different forms of the same drug, and have similar effects on the brain and nervous system. Federal law, however, sets a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between the two forms.
This disparity, enacted in the 1980s at the height of drug war hysteria, was based largely on the myth that crack cocaine was more dangerous than powder cocaine and that it was instantly addictive and caused violent behavior. Since then, copious amounts of scientific evidence and an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission have shown that these assertions were not supported by sound data and were exaggerated or outright false.
Regardless of why the disparity was enacted, its impact is clear: tremendous racial disparities in the criminal justice system, wasted tax dollars, and a less safe America.
The solution is clear: Completely eliminate the disparity. Raise the amounts of crack cocaine it takes to trigger long sentences to equal those of powder cocaine, and reprioritize federal drug war agencies towards violent drug cartels.
DPA is launching a major grassroots campaign to boost support for reform, including holding town hall forums in key Congressional districts. We've already held one forum in Alabama in conjunction with the ACLU; and we're planning forums in California, New York, and Texas. Additionally, we've teamed up with The Sentencing Project, the ACLU, and the Open Society Policy Center to launch a public relations campaign (you can view the campaign's really cool print ads here).
Three U.S. Senators have already introduced reform bills - Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Senator Joe Biden (D-DE). The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), has pledged to have hearings on the issue in September. There is growing bi-partisan support for reform.
The Sessions bill (S. 1383) would reduce the crack/powder sentencing disparity to 20 to 1 by lowering penalties for crack cocaine and raising penalties for power cocaine. Since Hispanics are disproportionately prosecuted for powder cocaine offenses, the practical effect of the Sessions bill would be to reduce racial disparities for blacks, while increasing them for Hispanics. The Hatch bill (S. 1685) would reduce the disparity to 20 to 1 by lowering penalties for crack cocaine and leaving powder penalties unchanged (it is, thus, significantly better than the Sessions bill). The Biden bill (S. 1711) would completely eliminate the disparity by lowering crack penalties to equal those of powder.
Of the three bills, Senator Biden's bill is the only one to completely eliminate the disparity; and it would accomplish this without subjecting more Americans to draconian mandatory minimum sentences. His bill is the one the Senate should pass. Please take a minute to fax your Senators and urge them to co-sponsor Senator Biden's reform bill (S. 1711).
Take action now.
If you live in Delaware, please take a moment to call Senator Biden's Wilmington office and thank him for introducing a bill to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. The office number is 302-573-6345.
While it takes just five grams of crack cocaine (about two sugar packets worth) to receive a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same sentence. 50 grams of crack cocaine triggers a ten-year sentence, but it takes 5,000 grams of powder cocaine - 5 kilos - to receive that much jail time.
Even though 66% of crack users are white, blacks make up more than 80% of federal defendants sentenced for crack cocaine offenses. No other federal law is more responsible for gross racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system.
And although the crack mandatory minimums were enacted to punish major traffickers, the vast majority of people subjected to them are low-level offenders. A recent report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that almost 70% of federal crack cocaine defendants had only low-level involvement in drug activity.