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Sentencing: Ohio Senate Passes Bill to Equalize Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity By Raising Sentences

The Ohio Senate marched resolutely backward Tuesday as it passed a measure, Senate Bill 73 that would eliminate the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine -- by raising sentences for powder cocaine to make them as harsh as those for crack. The measure now heads for the Ohio House.

In a reflection of federal laws that treat crack cocaine much more harshly than powder cocaine, Ohio state law makes possession of only 25 grams of crack a first-degree felony, while it takes 500 grams -- or 20 times as much -- powder cocaine to trigger the same charge. Ohio law makes any cocaine sales offense an offense "for which there is a presumption of a prison term" and calls for mandatory minimum prison sentences for any cocaine sale of five grams or more of crack or 10 grams of powder cocaine.

While black lawmakers in the Buckeye State have been calling for years for a measure to redress the disparity in sentencing, this is probably not what they had in mind. But the sponsor of the bill, State Sen. Ray Miller (D-Columbus), said upping the penalties for powder offenses was key to winning passage.

"We've got a growing problem in our rural areas of the state, and many of these members are well aware of the problem," Miller told the Cleveland Plain Dealer after the vote. That "broader understanding" that Ohio drug problems were not limited to inner city street corners swayed legislators, he said. "Fundamentally, equalizing the penalties at a higher level as opposed to bringing them down was key to passage," Miller said.

Some legislators who supported the bill did so despite concerns it could cost money. According to a nonpartisan fiscal analysis of the measure, it will cost $25 million a year or more in increased prison costs.

"That's real money," said State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who voted for the bill anyway. "And that's what happens when we equalize penalties at a higher rate."

Miller retorted that the cost argument "doesn't hold much water" because ending the distinction will cause judges to opt for treatment over prison for cocaine offenders. "In the long term, I think it will help to reduce the prison population because there is a race factor involved, there is an economic factor involved. Now some of the judges are going to have to look at things a little differently," Miller said.

But Miller's retort doesn't hold much water given that the law mandates prison sentences for most cocaine sales offenses.

The Ohio Senate's move to stiffen powder cocaine penalties comes as the US Sentencing Commission, the US Supreme Court, and the Congress are all contemplating ways to undo the federal powder-crack cocaine sentencing disparity. None of those institutions are contemplating doing so by raising the penalties for powder cocaine offenses to the level of crack cocaine.

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Senate Bill 73

Lame. If the sentencing disparity is such an issue, stop selling drugs. I get tired of hearing everyone crying foul for breaking the law. The current sentencing guidelines do not target blacks, it targets those in possession of crack cocaine. I am a black male who grew up in the inner city of Columbus (Westside). I have a bachelors and graduate degree in Criminal Justice. I am part of the so-called targeted group and I have no problem with the current sentencing guidelines. By the way, I am also a ODR&C employee who works with the currently incarcerated inmates. They are very pleased to know that they can be released, conduct the same activities and receive less time. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you :)

re: senate bill 73

Providing a known harmful product to someone who wants that harmful product should not lead to incarceration.

21 year old 10 years in prison for selling cocaine

My son made the mistake of selling cocaine ( never sold drugs before) to a police informant who was in trouble herself and needed to " bust" someone to reduce her own trouble with the law.She called him to seek out this deal. He did not offer to sell but made the mistake of locating the drug for this DIRTBAG police informant. Well he was videotaped making the deal and it was not a large amount. The prosecutor wants this 21 year old the spend 10 years in prison for this crime. I agree in that he should pay for his part in the sale, but 10 years? 1/3 of his life in prison after he is released for this crime is a crime itself. The prosecutor is an Evangelical minister,and I have one thing to say to her. Who tempted Adam and Eve? THE SERPENT THE DEVIL. The ethical behavior of Police in Ohio is on the verge of the criminals they arrest.

senate bill 73

If you have a problem with the drug laws in Ohio then don't sell crack/cocaine. People are getting upset because they are getting caught selling drugs that are plaguing the neighborhood.True we don't have very many jobs in Ohio but we also have plenty of colleges that are available for people to go through to get a college degree they just choose to take the easy road and cry later when they are caught and have to serve time in jail. The family that are fighting to get these people out of jail that upset are really upset because they family are in jail and they are used to getting money from them also. ( so they were benefiting like the dealer was) killing the community their own people. what about the kids that have no food, clothes or home. The drug dealer are not concerned with that. The adoption rate for black children are the highest because of crack the parents are dead or just strung out. I am a younger of three girls and have 2 sister on crack and between the 2 of them they have 13 children who are neglected ona dily basis. I have no empathy for them they knew better.

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