Drug War

Senate Approves Bill to Shrink the Crack Gap


Yesterday the Senate unanimously approved a bill that addresses the unjust, arbitrary treatment of crack cocaine offenses. Under rules enacted by Congress in the 1980s, five grams of crack cocaine is treated the same as 500 grams of cocaine powder, triggering a five-year mandatory minimum sentence; likewise, 50 grams of crack triggers the same 10-year penalty as five kilograms of powder. The distinction, which is not based on any inherent difference between the smoked and snorted forms of the drug, has led to striking racial disparities in punishment. But instead of eliminating the distinction, as a bill passed by the House last summer would do, the Senate bill would reduce the 100-to-1 weight ratio, making it a less outrageous but equally arbitrary 18 to 1. The bill also would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession of crack by first-time offenders. The American Bar Association says "the unanimous Senate vote on this long-contentious issue represents a rare bipartisan achievement in the criminal justice reform area." Jasmine Tyler of the Drug Policy Alliance is more ambivalent:

Today is a bittersweet day. On one hand, we've moved the issue of disparate sentencing for two forms of the same drug forward, restoring some integrity to our criminal justice system. But on the other hand, the Senate, by reducing the 100 to 1 disparity to 18 to 1, instead of eliminating it, has proven how difficult it is to ensure racial justice, even in 2010.

Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums has a similarly mixed reaction:

This is a big improvement over current crack sentencing penalties. It could lower sentences for almost 3,000 people each year. However, the bill is not retroactive and would not help anyone who is already in prison serving a crack cocaine sentence. So, after working on this issue for almost as long as FAMM has been in existence, I'm not thrilled that this is all we got.

In a 2007 column, I explained why the crack gap makes no sense.

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  1. I would point out that Obama could use his commutation power to eliminate the crack gap completely. He could just commute every disparate sentence in the federal system.

    1. And don’t tell me that he can’t do it because it would be unpopular. The bastard is willing to destroy the entire Democratic Party for his dumb ass health care plan. Why not spend some political capital correcting injustice?

      1. the bill is not retroactive and would not help anyone who is already in prison

        “Why not spend some political capital correcting injustice?”

        Because he has precious little political capital left. Better to spend it enslaving the rest of us than freeing the human legacy of wrongheaded drug-war policy. Right, Rachel Maddow?

        1. Ah ha ha ha, that would actually be awesome.

        2. I read on ESPN the other day about some wide receiver from Georgia Tech coming out in the draft. His mother and grandmother ran some petty drug operation (or maybe a large operation, the article didn’t say). The grandmother got 40 years and the mother got 20 and this kid wound up homeless at 12. Now unless they were killing and shooting people, there is no fucking way their crime deserved that kind of sentence. I am sure there are not alone.

          There are two things about our society that actually when I allow them keep me awake at night worrying that we probably deserve whatever horrible fate we get; abortions and the federal minimum mandatory drug sentences.

          1. I’m guessing grandma never sold drugs to your kid on his way home from school? I got no problem with this.

            1. I guess I might consider my kid at fault for buying the drugs rather than grandma. But that is just me. I have this whole personal responsibility fetish.

              And if you have no problem with the sentence, you are a ignorant turd bag with no sense of justice or morality.

            2. Grandma never did because my kids don’t do drugs. Perhaps if you would raise your children rather than expecting the state to do it, you might have similar good fortune.

              1. John do you have multiple insane personalities? Why the hell do you respond multiple times?

        3. Does this penis make me look like a man? {Tucking motion directed at the crotch area} How about now?

      2. The thing is, John, we look at the war on arbitrary chemicals as a farce. These people believe in this shit. Remember when Obama had the website to “address citizen concerns”. What was the number one issue that people wanted an answer on? Marijuana legalization, and we saw the president’s response.

  2. Let he who is without sin throweth the first rock. And I shall smoketh it.

  3. As I was reading this post, I looked to its immediate right and saw an ad from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, an organization dedicated to spreading lies about drugs that happen to be illegal. Say it ain’t so, Reason! What the fucking hell???

    1. I highly recommend Kaplan University. It prepared me for the toughest market anywhere.

      I especially liked the class that taught me how to handle a dog that acts in an aggressive manner: Dog Takedown 102. And I enjoyed Wrong House, No Problem 402–the guest lecturer from Prince George County was top-notch.

      1. Don’t forget How to Properly Place a Drop Weapon, and How to Properly Plant Drugs on a Suspect.

        1. Those weren’t my favorites. The Evidence Locker and How to Cover Your Personal Debt Gaps 205 and Advanced Radar Gun and Setting up Your Speed Trap at the Bottom of a Hill 304 were in my top five, however.

    2. Say it ain’t so, Reason!

      I applaud Reason for taking money from jackbooted scumbags and putting it to good use.

      1. If we can deny those bozos one venue for publicity, I think it would serve the cause better than taking their money.

  4. Senators’ kids still don’t smoke crack, I guess.

  5. When I heard this on NPR this morning, I nearly drove off the road when Reggie Walton (Bush I drug policy official, now a federal judge) say that back then they thought crack was a different chemical substance, but know they know this is not the case. As though they didn’t have analytical chemistry all the way back in the early 1990s.

    1. urm, said that back then…

    2. They had analytical chemistry back then but, everybody in the field was busy showing that marijuana grown hydroponically is 142.98% Del-9-THC. This ain’t your grandaddy’s weed!!

    3. We weren’t being bedwetting alarmists overreacting to the latest Time Magazine Drug Scare, we’re just fucking stupid.

      Why doesn’t this comfort me?

      1. My favorite drug scare is the one about kids taking prescription drugs from their parents medicine cabinet. Unless your parents have cancer, whose parents have enough pain killers lying around to feed an addiction? Seriously.

        1. I wish my parents had had that much hydrocodone.

          1. That makes two of us. When my mother died of cancer, my father went berserk in grief shortly after coming home from the hospital and threw away everything associated with her illness including an ungodly amount of such stuff. Finding this fact out almost made me forget about the grief over her death for a moment.

        2. Plus who keeps that shit within reach of their children? That’s not a drug scare; that’s a parenting scare.

  6. This was a terrible change. They should have made the powdered cocaine sentence as long as the rock cocaine sentence of 10 years. What they did was make it easier for rock cocaine takers. This is so bad.

    1. Nonsense. They should change both to instant execution upon arrest. After all, it’s for the children.

      1. And get it over with once and for all. If they day comes it will call for an alcohol celebration !!!

  7. Justice is a drug warrior getting cancer.

    1. And having his oncologist refuse to up his pain meds ’cause the dea is up his ass.

  8. “While Democrats and Republicans bicker over healthcare, unemployment, education and other issues, it’s good to see that they unanimously agree that U.S. drug laws are too harsh and need to be reformed,” said Tyler.

    Do I detect a libertine streak at the DPA?

  9. Sometimes Congress takes compromise way too literally. What do members gain from cutting it “merely” to 18 times the penalty?

    Of course, this country has a long tradition of giving blacks fractions of equal rights.

    1. Let’s try not to forget why this disparity existed in the first place and who it’s champions were.

      1. I assumed Ronnie Reagan was covering his own ass for trafficking in cocaine to fund the contras.

        1. You assumed wrong.

      2. IIANM, the Congressional Black Caucus was all for the crack disparity.

        While not on my list of authoratative websites, Blackinformant.com backs me up.

        I refuse to more googling than that.

  10. Talk Show Host:
    You are correct sir. Tell him what he’s won…

    Announcer’s Voice:
    Next week, you, J sub D, get to pick the next completely arbitrary word thats declared racist.

    Talk Show Host:
    That’s quite an prize. Usually that one goes to a progressive journalist.

  11. We just need to get the black people to use powder cocaine, then all the whining will stop.

    Just kidding we all know the whining will never ever stop.

  12. hm. Rather than reducing the crack penalty, they should have strengthened the powder penalty. That shit ruins lives of people who are too powerless and dumb to control or afford their habits.

    1. Yes, it is a far better thing to make sure their lives are totally ruined by the State, rather than eliminating jail sentences entirely and letting them handle their own business.

    2. ..he says will cracking open a malt liquor.

  13. ..he says while cracking open a malt liquor.

  14. Some of you need to stay off the web. They couldn’t hold all the whites if they made the penalty the same.

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