Jeff Sessions' Crack Cocaine Solution


There seems to be wide agreement in Congress that the disparity in sentencing between smokable and snortable cocaine, because of which five grams of crack gets you the same mandatory five-year sentence as 500 grams of powder, is unjust, makes no pharmacological sense, and leads to racially skewed punishment. Even hard-line drug warriors such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) are having second thoughts:

Congress thought by having very harsh sentences, it would deter the spread of crack into the inner cities and around the country. The truth is, it didn't stop it. It spread very rapidly. Now we need to ask ourselves, what is the right sentence for this bad drug. I think it's time to adjust. I think it's past time to do this.

But how to fix the problem? Congress could simply eliminate the sentencing disparity by telling federal courts to treat crack the same way they treat cocaine powder—the solution recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. But that would be too easy; more to the point, it would make legislators look too easy on crime. So Sessions has introduced a bill that would reduce the disparity without eliminating it and do so partly by increasing the penalties for cocaine powder offenses. How is it that federal penalties for cocaine possession are suddenly too lenient?