Yesterday Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the Fair Sentencing Act, which would eliminate the unjust, irrational disparity in penalties between the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine. More than two decades after Congress created draconian mandatory minimum sentences that treat crack as if it were 100 times worse than cocaine powder, even Republicans acknowledge that the distinction, which has a disproportionate impact on blacks, makes little sense. Although some Republicans want to eliminate the gap by increasing the penalties for cocaine powder, that is not the approach taken by Durbin's bill, which would instead reduce crack penalties by raising the weight thresholds. A related bill already has passed one committee in the House, where it has 52 cosponsors, and the Obama administration has endorsed the change. Assuming this all comes together, sentencing reform will count as President Obama's most significant improvement so far in the area of drug policy, especially since the impact of his shift regarding medical marijuana remains to be seen.
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