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.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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crack vs. cocaine

Listening to the liberal press you'd think the only difference between crack and cocaine is the social class of the users. Not true. There are significant differences between crack and cocaine. Route of administration for one: i.e. a volatilized alkaloid vs.insufflation. The potency of a hit of crack is far greater than a line of cocaine. Of course,longtime use of both leads to ugly consequences but still, we're looking at something analogous to the difference between beer and liquor
borden's picture

route of administration cuts both ways

Powder cocaine when injected is as powerful or even more so than smoking crack cocaine, so the route of administration argument cuts both ways. This means that the beer vs. liquor argument doesn't really work -- it is mainly in the behavior of the individual.

Besides the main problem is not that the different forms of the drug are being treated differently. It's that the sentences for crack cocaine were (and in many cases still are) so draconian and indecent. Five years in prison for five grams? Indefensible.

The other big problem is that they mainly have targeted blacks for these harsh sentences. There are more whites who use crack than blacks who do, but the whites if they get caught mainly get sent to state courts which mostly have less severe sentencing than the federal government does.

deadheadale's picture

its true that crack cocaine

its true that crack cocaine is more potent but only for a shorter period of time. its basically the choice of being really high for a short duration or high for a longer duration

how about coca production

Where is the coca production in this country? I'm not talking about cocaine. The coca leaf is extremely nutritious as well as providing a healthy lift. We could grow it in Colorado or anywhere with an atmospheric chamber and a green house. Why should feudal South American Countries get the jump start on this?

18-to-1 Ratio is Strange

Lowering penalties from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 on the official scale of crack/cocaine evilness still looks completely arbitrary. 

So what happened?  Did some legislator think, “Ah, well, my daughter turned 18 last week, and, uh, 18-to-1 makes it sound as if someone actually did a real calculation of some kind….”


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

Legalizing crack. When I lived in LA near MacArthur park, during the late 80s and early 90s, crack dealers used to chase me in my car, trying to make a sale. Dealers would try to flag me down even as another dealer was being jacked  by the LAPD not 30 yards away. And I wasn't looking.

Crack is not nearly as popular as it was back in those days. An example of the fact that people in general are capable of self regulation once they possess knowledge. As the devastating effects of crack addiction became apparent to people it began to wane in popularity.

As far as "feudal" S.A. countries getting a jump start on coca production, coca leaf has been part of their culture for centuries, at least. The dominant states of the west, primarily the U.S., acting through the UN, mandated a worldwide cessation of the practice of coca leaf chewing. During the 1960s it was stated that this practice should be eliminated entirely within 20 years. This is the same culture that removed the pure cocaine from the leaf and created cocaine hcl and base. The same culture that demonized opium using, replacing it with the use of alkaloid extracts and derivatives and a never ending variety of new petroleum based synthetic narcotics. We even figured out how to make a Cannabis derivative, "hash oil" that was potentially, and occasionally, actually deadly. And all the many other chemical psychotropic drugs that do not fall into these three classes.

Nobody dies from chewing coca leaf, smoking opium or using Cannabis. When it comes to using drugs, or plant poisons for pleasure, the old ways are the best ways. My opinion anyway.

Anyway, I'm happy these persecutions and punishments of people involved with crack are to become somewhat less Draconian. The state is more efficient at ruining lives than is the abuse of drugs.

I think "the lowering of

I think "the lowering of crack penalties" is an indication that the cannabis-centered mindset is wrong and that we'd do much better pairing it with Harm-Redux propositions. To a lot of people, the freedom to toke just isn't that important but saving lives and preventing disease in their kids is and Harm-Reduction promises that. The fact that so many cannabis-law reformers appear to be interested in freeing only their own drug of choice leaves a bad taste, IMO, in the mouths of the undecided. I think they see it fitting into a negative "Hippie" stereo-type. I do not say it's true or accurate, just that it's probably occurring. 

It's not so much the freedom to toke itself that's a basic right

but the freedom to toke if other people are allowed to drink booze. Both the spirit of liberty and justice for all and the spirit of equal protection under the law demand equal rights for cannabis users. But that's certainly not the only reason to legalize cannabis. Weakening the murderous drug gangs, who have become a threat to national security, providing a desperately needed safer alternative to alcohol, having the broke government save money on enforcement and make money from taxes, providing jobs, increasing respect for the police and government, these are all pressing needs that cannabis legalization will address. It has potential to make it harder for kids to get access to cannabis

Regarding that "bad taste" from people only looking to promote cannabis legalization, all the polls I've seen show very little support for legalizing anything besides cannabis. People know the war on drugs is a failure, but they are not yet ready to abolish it. So for now any referendum to legalize all drugs anywhere in the country could only be justified as an educational tool, knowing full well that it will lose. So what's wrong with a referendum that reflects public opinion and focuses only on marijuana?

But there's no incompatibility between supporting cannabis legalization which apparently has majority support in some states, and pushing for harm reduction measures for other illegal drugs that have a chance of getting approved. I'd like to see reformers pushing more liberal cities to ask for state/federal permission to experiment with illegal drug maintenance programs, providing addicts with drugs at non-black market prices, to reduce crimes committed by the need to pay exorbitant prices. Such programs would make it possible to clearly distinguish between harms caused by the drugs themselves and harms caused by their prohibition and by the demonized status of users.

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