Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity

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Reducing Penalties for Crack and Peyote...But When Marijuana? (Opinion)

The Marijuana Policy Project's executive director, Rob Kampia, reflects on advocating changes in marijuana policy in light of reductions in penalties with regard to crack cocaine and peyote. He says it's all about framing the issue.
Publication/Source: 
The Huffington Post (CA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-kampia/reducing-penalties-for-cr_b_711065.html

Obama Takes a Crack at Drug Reform (Opinion)

Drug Policy Alliance ED, Ethan Nadelmann, opines on President Obama's drug policy reform moves since entering office.
Publication/Source: 
The Nation (NY)
URL: 
http://www.thenation.com/article/154164/obama-takes-crack-drug-reform

NAACP Praises Reduced Disparity in Cocaine Sentences ‎

The NAACP thanks Congress and the president for a new law that will reduce the gap between federal mandatory sentences for convictions for crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
Publication/Source: 
Politic365 (DC)
URL: 
http://politic365.com/2010/08/05/naacp-praises-reduced-disparity-in-cocaine-sentences/

If Lowering Penalties for Crack Isn't Controversial, What Is?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson at New America Media notes that last week's major reform of crack cocaine sentencing guidelines failed to meet with much opposition from the right. It's another powerful sign that drug war politics are changing before our eyes.

The silence of House Republicans on the congressional reform measure hardly means that mainstream GOP politicians are ready to become full-blown anti-drug war crusaders. However, the willingness of so many prominent conservatives to publicly voice their doubts about drug laws signals that drug reform is no longer a taboo subject within the GOP. The drug war, in effect, is now a legitimate subject of conservative debate.

The softening of GOP opposition is not entirely due to an epiphany about runaway costs and the threat to liberties. It’s also about politics. Polls show that a sizeable number of voters now think that the drug war has failed or is ineffective. A majority of voters in a growing number of states overwhelmingly back medical marijuana legalization, and even full legalization of marijuana for adults. Drug law reform, then, is clearly an issue that’s back on the nation’s political table. The GOP aims to have a seat at that table.

See, a lot of politicians just stare blankly back at you when you try to explain that the drug war horribly sucks and destroys everything. But when you pull out the poll numbers, suddenly there's a dialogue to be had and progress to be made. Funny how that works.

Of course, fixing federal drug laws is anything but easy. Last week's victory was literally decades in the making, but it nonetheless signals a dramatic departure from the long-standing principle that drug policy reform in Congress is a political impossibility. If we can reform crack laws without igniting any vicious partisan mudslinging, then it should be possible to move forward towards addressing countless other costly and counterproductive drug policies that only Congress can correct.

Obama Signs Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform Bill

President Obama Tuesday signed into law a bill, S. 1789, which significantly reduces, but does not eliminate, the infamous disparity in sentencing of federal crack and powder cocaine offenders. The signing was open to news photographers, but not other media. Obama took no questions and made no remarks.

Under quarter-century old federal laws drafted in the midst of the crack hysteria of the mid-1980s, people convicted of possessing as little as five grams of crack cocaine faced a mandatory minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same penalties. The law subjected tens of thousands of African-Americans to long prison sentences for crack offenses, while whites busted for crack mainly got sent to state court for comparatively lenient sentences.

Under the new law, that 100:1 disparity is reduced to 18:1. That means instead of five grams of crack garnering the same sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine, it will now take 28 grams of crack to earn the five-year mandatory minimum. That goes up to 10 years if the amount in question is more than 280 grams of crack.

While the new law removes the mandatory minimum sentence for simply possessing five grams of crack and while it will likely reduce sentences by about two years for federal crack offenders, it is not retroactive. That means thousands of people doing harsh sentences under the old law will continue to serve them, at least for now. However, the US Sentencing Commission could take up the retroactivity question for those people, now that Congress has change the threshold for mandatory minimums.

Drug War Chronicle did a feature article on the bill last week. For more detail and analysis, read it here.

Washington, DC
United States

Obama signs bill to narrow sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine convictions

Drug prohibition allows for massive disparity in sentencing, and this disparity is one of the many reasons millions of Americans see it as the new Jim Crow. President Barack Obama signed into law a bill to reduce the disparity between federal mandatory sentences for convictions for crack cocaine and the powder form of the illegal drug. The quarter-century-old law that Congress changed with the bill Obama signed subjected tens of thousands of black cocaine users to long prison terms while specifying far more lenient sentences to those, mainly whites, caught with powder cocaine.
Publication/Source: 
The Canadian Press (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5jQH8VsevgcP6y2Xr7kSs8_Zg7F2g

Congress Acts to Reduce Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity (FEATURE)

The US House of Representatives Wednesday approved a bill, SB 1789, that addresses one of the most glaring injustices of the American drug war: the 100:1 disparity in sentencing between federal crack cocaine and federal powder cocaine offenders. The bill does not eliminate the disparity, but dramatically reduces it.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/crack-the-disparity-briefing-spring09.jpg
Hill briefing by Crack the Disparity, spring 2009
A companion measure passed the Senate in March. The bill now goes to the White House for President Obama's signature, which is expected shortly. The White House supported the bill.

Under federal drug laws enacted during the height of the crack hysteria of the mid-1980s, a person caught with five grams of crack cocaine faced the same mandatory minimum five-year sentence as someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine. And though blacks constitute only about 30% of all crack users, they accounted for more than 80% of all federal crack cocaine prosecutions.

The bill approved by Congress reduces that 100:1 ratio to 18:1. It also removes the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of five grams or less of crack, marking the first time Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum since Richard Nixon was president, although not the first time a law involving mandatory minimums has been scaled back. To the dismay of advocates, the bill is not retroactive.

Under the bill, it will take 28 grams of crack to garner a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence and 280 grams to trigger a 10-year prison sentence. It will still take 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the five-year mandatory minimum. Estimates are that, once enacted, the law could affect about 3,000 cases a year, reducing sentences by an average of two years. The shorter sentences should save about $42 million in prison costs over five years.

Criminal Justice Policy Foundation head Eric Sterling has been working to reform the law for nearly two decades -- since just a few years after he helped write it as House Judiciary Committee counsel at the time. The change didn't come nearly fast enough, he said. "I'm very personally relieved," Sterling said. "My role in these tragic injustices has pained me for decades. You realize that probably hundreds of thousands of men and women went to prison for unjustly long sentences that I helped write. It's not something I've ever forgotten."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/scales.jpg
scales of justice tilt slightly closer to sanity
He didn't think it was going to happen. "I have become so cynical," he said. "I really doubted the leadership was going to bring it to the floor, and I doubted that the Republicans were going to support it. Even though it had passed the Senate, I didn't think the House Republicans were going to go along. But I was pleasantly surprised that people like Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Dan Lundgren (R-CA) spoke in favor of it, and that the House majority leader went to the floor to speak in favor of it. My cynicism was completely unwarranted here, so I'm very relieved and satisfied."

"Members of both parties deserve enormous credit for moving beyond the politics of fear and simply doing the right thing," said Julie Stewart, founder and president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "For those of us who have been pushing for reform for nearly 20 years, today's vote is phenomenal. To see members of Congress come together on such a historically partisan issue like this during an election year is heartening. The 100:1 disparity was an ugly stain on the criminal justice system," Stewart continued. "Nobody will mourn its passing -- least of all, the thousands of individuals and families FAMM has worked with over the past 20 years that have been directly impacted. I am hopeful that the forces of reason and compassion that carried the day today will prevail again soon to apply the new law retroactively to help those already in prison for crack cocaine offenses," Stewart concluded.

"This is a historic day, with House Republicans and Democrats in agreement that US drug laws are too harsh and must be reformed," said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The tide is clearly turning against the failed war on drugs. I'm overjoyed that thousands of people, mostly African American, will no longer be unjustly subjected to the harsh sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s," Tyler said. "The compromise is not perfect and more needs to be done, but this is a huge step forward in reforming our country's overly harsh and wasteful drug laws."

"Well, I guess there's 80% less racism, but there's still a big problem, though," said Nora Callahan, director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on federal drug war prisoners. "This is a fix on the back end, but as the US Sentencing Commission noted, sentencing really begins when the police start investigating. That whole drug war system of cops and snitches and prosecutors is still in place."

"Substantively, this is not a major policy change," agreed Sterling, "But symbolically, it's very important. I wouldn't have thought this would have made it to the House floor, and I wouldn't have thought this would pass by two-thirds on a recorded vote."

"This is progress, but it's not retroactive, so all the people who worked so hard to pass this bill don't get any reward," said Callahan. "When you leave out the principle of extending justice to all, it's really tough. How do you tell people sorry, we left you out of it?"

Making the law retroactive will be the next battle, but it won't be the only one. "In concrete terms, the next step will be to try to get retroactivity," said Sterling. "The other side of it is to push the president to start commuting sentences."

Washington, DC
United States

Congress Reduces Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

More big drug policy news from Congress in this last week before the recess: The House has at long last passed legislation, already adopted by the Senate, which will reduce crack cocaine sentences by reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. S 1789 will also repeal the much-condemned five-year mandatory sentence for simple possession of crack.  It heads now to the president's desk -- AP story here.

While the bill does not do nearly everything reformers would like, it is more than a good start. To put the issue in perspective, groups had already been organizing on this issue for a number of years before I got involved in the movement in 1993. It's amazing how much time it takes to get even the most clear cases of racism and injustice addressed (the racism in this case coming in how the law was implemented, rather than the text of it.)

With medical marijuana cleared now in DC, and the Webb criminal justice commission bill moving forward by passing the House (unanimous consent!), it has been a big week for drug policy reform, and a good one, here in Washington.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Call Congress Today to Tell Them to Vote YES for Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform

Please Support S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010

Call Your Representative Today

 

Dear Colleagues,

 

Early next week, the House of Representatives may vote on legislation, recently passed unanimously by the Senate, to reduce the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine to 18-to-1. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, S. 1789, also would eliminate the mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine (5 years for 5 grams without intent to distribute). The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates the changes could reduce the average crack cocaine sentence by nearly 30 months and reduce the federal prison population by 3,800 over 10 years.

NACDL has been working hard with a diverse group of allies to pass this legislation, but we need your help now. Please call your representative today to ask them to vote yes for the Fair Sentencing Act.   If you have never called your Member of Congress before, it's quick and easy. Now is the time to make your voice heard.

Please Take Action by clicking the link and/or entering your zip code to contact your U.S. House of Representatives. Suggested talking points are provided once you follow the instructions and links.

 

Thank you for taking a few moments to help pass this long overdue, historic legislation.

 

Kyle O'Dowd

Associate Executive Director for Policy 

Time is Running Out! Tell Congress to Vote Yes on Crack Reform

Announcement

Sentencing Project
 

Tell Congress To Vote Yes for Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform


This week, the House of Representatives may vote on legislation, recently passed by the Senate, to reduce the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine to 18 to 1. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, S. 1789, would also eliminate the simple possession mandatory minimum (5 years for 5 grams without intent to distribute), limit the excessive penalties served by people convicted of low-level crack cocaine offenses, and increase penalties for high-level traffickers. The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates the changes could reduce the federal prison population by 3,800 over 10 years.

Champions for sentencing fairness are urged to contact their representative in the House today to ask them to vote yes for the Fair Sentencing Act. Call the U.S. Capitol Switch Board at 202-224-3121 and ask for your representative. They will patch you through to the correct office.

Once you reach your representative, tell them you support the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, S. 1789 because:

•    The current 100 to 1 cocaine sentencing disparity is unfair. The five-year penalty for possessing as little as five grams of crack cocaine is the same for selling 500 grams of powder cocaine. The law imposes excessive prison sentences for low-level crack cocaine offenses that often exceed penalties for offenses involving powder cocaine trafficking.
•    The current 100 to 1 cocaine sentencing disparity exacerbates racial disparity in federal prisons. Over 80% of those serving time for a crack cocaine offense are African American, despite the fact that two-thirds of users are white or Hispanic.
•    The Fair Sentencing Act, S. 1789, is an historic opportunity to advance justice and restore faith in the criminal justice system. A broad consensus among criminal justice experts, law enforcement organizations, and policymakers has emerged that concludes the current 100 to 1 disparity cannot be justified. Organizations endorsing reform include: the NAACP; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union; the National District Attorneys Association; and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
•    The Fair Sentencing Act will also save taxpayers money. Replacing the irrational 100:1 ratio with a new 18:1 ratio will save $42 million over five years, according to Congressional Budget Office.

When you have completed your call to your representative, please email kgotsch@sentencingproject.org and say how it went.  Also, please consider forwarding this email to a friend.

Thank you for joining the effort to reduce the crack cocaine sentencing disparity.

 

The Sentencing Project is located at 1705 DeSales Street, NW 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036.  Send an email to The Sentencing Project.

The Sentencing Project is a national, non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy for criminal justice reform.

 

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

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