Drug Policy

Another Crack at Crack Sentences

|

In its latest report on federal cocaine penalties (PDF), the U.S. Sentencing Commission essentially reiterates what it's been saying since 1995:

(1) The current quantity-based penalties overstate the relative harmfulness of crack cocaine compared to powder cocaine.

(2) The current quantity-based penalties sweep too broadly and apply most often to lower level offenders.

(3) The current quantity-based penalties overstate the seriousness of most crack cocaine offenses and fail to provide adequate proportionality.

(4) The current severity of crack cocaine penalties mostly impacts minorities.

The commission's recommendations to Congress include increasing the quantities of crack required to trigger five- and 10-year mandatory minimum sentences (currently five and 50 grams, respectively, compared to 500 grams and 5,000 grams for cocaine powder) and repealing the mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack, which treats users of that drug as severely as dealers of other drugs. The report cautions against shrinking the sentencing gap between crack and cocaine powder by increasing the penalties for the latter (which some members of Congress have proposed), since "there is no evidence to justify such an increase in quantity-based penalties for powder cocaine offenses."

In 1995, when the commission started pointing out the injustice of federal crack sentences, Congress not only vociferously rejected its legislative advice; it voted to override the commission's attempt to equalize treatment of crack and cocaine powder quantities under federal sentencing guidelines. Today Congress may be in a more rational mood. The commission notes "renewed congressional interest in federal cocaine sentencing policy," adding that "federal cocaine sentencing policy, insofar as it provides substantially heightened penalties for crack cocaine offenses, continues to come under almost universal criticism from representatives of the Judiciary, criminal justice practitioners, academics, and community interest groups, and inaction in this area is of increasing concern to many."

Advertisement

NEXT: Lurching Toward Immigration Reform

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Today Congress may be in a more rational mood. The commission notes “renewed congressional interest in federal cocaine sentencing policy,” adding that “federal cocaine sentencing policy, insofar as it provides substantially heightened penalties for crack cocaine offenses, continues to come under almost universal criticism from representatives of the Judiciary, criminal justice practitioners, academics, and community interest groups, and inaction in this area is of increasing concern to many.”

    So what? You think any of those drug-war-crazed windsocks in Congress give a shit about any of that, when they know damn well that soccer moms and other “concerned citizens” in Kool-Aid-drinking public will vote their asses out of office if they think they’re soft on drugs?

  2. Congress is one giant re-election campaign. There are no “rational moods.”

  3. One reason Reason is a good publication is that it escapes, from time to time, the cynicisms that tends to engulf much libertarian thinking.

  4. Today Congress may be in a more rational mood.

    Hmm. Lost me on that one.

  5. I can almost understand the witch hunt mentality back 50 years ago when the WoD first started up. This stuff was only done by black folks and crooks, so it must be evil, right?

    The funny thing is, we finally have a leader witht he personal know-how to cook up a bunch of crack out of powder, and these laws are still not repealed.

    Bizarro world!

  6. People sure do like their charts…

  7. Today Congress may be in a more rational mood.

    Yeah, I grabbed that before I even read the comments – so it isn’t just me.

    Jacob, pray tell what were you consuming when you wrote this?

  8. Please, oh please let them VOTE on this so we can shut up the “well the Dems and GOP are equally bad on drugs” equivalency libertarians on this site. There are a handful of GOPers who will question the drug war, but it’s a conservative baby of long standing, and whenever there is a straight up vote on issues like allowing medical marijuana or lessening the draconian penalties there are nearly always more Dem votes than GOP ones (both in number and as a porportion of their membership in whatever legislative body we are talking about).

    Let’s head off a bit of foolishness before hand, shall we? Someone will mention that the War on Drugs is a “progressive” baby. They will do this by ignoring that what was a “progressive” in 1914 (the Harrison Act) is very different from what is a progressive now (Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryan were progressives, these guys would be part of the religious GOP nowadays). They will ignore the religious grandstanding and racial baiting tactics used by Anslinger et al., that are certainly not the trademark of what we think of as a progressive today (these qualities are much more at home in the Pat Robertson/Trent Lott party). They will also do this in a sly way by pointing to the number of Democratic votes in 1914 or 1951 pushing to crack down on drugs, but many of these votes were from Southern Democrats (like Boggs from “progressive” Louisiana, right?) who would be GOP nowadays. Sorry folks, but from good ol’ “progressives” like Hale Boggs (who would essentially be the Trent Lott of his day) to Nixon to Reagan, draconian approaches to drugs (or anything really, since they don’t mind kicking anyone who is down, sentimentality and big-heartedness not usually a quality frequently found among conservatives) are a conservative thing.

  9. Don’t smoke crack. It’s a ghetto drug.

  10. Just as the Mormons baptise the dead -as Mormons,
    Ken registers dead , progressive liberal Democrats – as Republicans.

    Progressives “own” the drug war.

  11. Or, said the other way:
    (1) The current quantity-based penalties understate the relative harmfulness of powdered cocaine compared to crack cocaine.

    (2) The current quantity-based penalties apply most often to lower level offenders, because of the law of averages.

    (3) The current quantity-based penalties understate the seriousness of most non-crack cocaine offenses and fail to provide adequate proportionality.

    (4) The current severity of crack cocaine penalties mostly impacts minorities, and since when does society care about keeping them from drug use?

  12. Single Issue voter-are you drunk or something?
    Can you name me a vote in the last 50 years that escalated penalties in the drug war in which Democrats voted in higher porportions than Republicans? Did you miss the 1960’s, which was the crucible for modern progressivism (you know, the hippies and yippies and such, many of whom now are Democratic office holders and liberal academics)? It had a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards drugs if you remember…
    Would Anslinger and Boggs be Democrats or Republicans if they existed today? I’d be happy to enlighten you with their stated positions on some issues of contemporary note.
    What you fail to understand is that a ‘progressive’ in 1914 is very different from a progressive today. But MORE importantly, even the progressives of yesteryear were not as big of proponents for draconian penalties and law enforcement techniques than were conservatives (especially Southern conservatives, you know, the current heart of the GOP). I’d be happy to show you how the votes on things like Harrison or Boggs broke down, how in committee even the progressives of the old definition were the most outspoken in opposition, etc., but I imagine you are too wedded to your goofy GOP to be convinced by evidence.

  13. God, how I love to read extended posts by shills for the big party…Go Team Red! Go Team Blue! Rah Rah Rah!!

    Seriously, the “progressive” impulse of 1910 is amazingly similar to the “progressive” impulse of 2007, even if the targets are somewhat different. The underlying nanny-state ideology is the same.

  14. BTW, does anyone actually snort cocaine anymore? I thought that went out with Aquanet and diagonal zippers.

  15. Ken,

    Anytime the democrats have had a chance to actually reduce the drug war instead of just complaining about it they have always kept the drug war train running full speed ahead.

    I will remind you it was the clinton justice department that first started prosecuting california medical marijuana on a federal basis.

    If you want to end the drug war, work on convincing both democrats and republican how bad a policy it is.

  16. But the children, or whatever.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.