Criminal Justice

Sentencing Guidelines for Crack Cocaine Offenses Are Now Officially Less Appalling


For all the disappointment (or just low expectations confirmed) about the Obama administration and the drug war, especially with the current crack-downs on medical marijuana, it's nice to remember the one damn thing Obama has done on this front in his three years: reduce the harsh sentencing disparity of crack cocaine offenses compared with powder.  

These guidelines, passed in June, are about to officially do some good for those already in jail—hopefully.


Up to 1,800 inmates are immediately eligible to go free and prison officials are processing a growing number of release orders, said Chris Burke, a spokesman for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons.

"The pace has picked up in the last couple of weeks and we don't expect it to abate any time soon," he said.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimated this summer that about 12,000 inmates could be eligible to seek a reduced sentence, with the impact spread over decades. The average reduction in sentence would be 37 months.

People suffering three fewer years behind bars certainly is a cause for celebration. And the reduction of sentencing minimums for crack—which, for example, treated 5 grams of crack the same as 500 grams of cocaine—is decades overdue

But don't get to optimistic about Obama. Crack is still worth 18 times what powder cocaine is, for some reason.

And none of these folks are out yet. There's still many exciting bureaucratic hoops to jump through before Hamedah Hasan and others get their lives back. The drug war continues, and the Obama White House isn't particularly interested in letting anyone's youthful experiments with substances—besides the president's—slide.

Jacob Sullum's October cover story on Obama the drug warrior. And Reason on drugs, including past reporting on the absurdity of crack sentence disparities. 

NEXT: "The blunt truth is that Obama's jobs plan will not work."

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  1. Woah! Slim Goodbody is a crackhead?

  2. I know at least one commenter here has to have smoked crack. How’s it compare to coke? Epi, I’m looking at you.

    1. I don’t do cheap drugs, and I don’t smoke my benzoylmethylecgonine.

    2. Crack sucks. It’s like a bad jittery speed-high.

      Coke is mighty fine!

      Opium for the win though.

  3. That diagram can’t be right. I thought coke made you happy and horny, with numbness to boot?

  4. This is bad policy on the part of the Obama Administration. The released convicts are going to add to his unemployment numbers, as are the prison guards and treatment facilitators who get laid off from lack of work.

  5. reduce the harsh sentencing disparity with crack cocaine compared with power

    Wishful thinking that they might do anything to lower a power disparity.

  6. Mega Super Terrific Associate Editor Lucy, I’m confused here with your lede.

    “Sentences for crack cocaine to be officially less appalling.”

    Who is the syntax police and what is the criteria for sentences to be deemed written in an appalling manner? Is this governing body appointed or elected? And since sentences are now less appalling, can we expect an increase in the literacy rate? Or did you mean that crack itself can be incarcerated?

  7. I know at least one commenter here has to have smoked crack. How’s it compare to coke?

    Only did it once, because…I accidentally bought some. (TRU WARIERS know what I mean.)

    It hits faster and harder, doesn’t last nearly as long, doesn’t make you happy at all (it’s just a “rush”), and it makes your mouth/chest/breath/etc. taste like there’s barrel fire of moldy synthetic sweaters inside you…forever. I still taste it whenever I think about it.

    Waste of coke.

    1. it makes your mouth/chest/breath/etc. taste like there’s barrel fire of moldy synthetic sweaters inside you…forever.

      Now I can taste it and I’ve never tried it. Blech. Good description, though.

    2. Well, that sounds unpleasant.

    3. Right, so it’s just like methamphetamines. No thanks.

  8. The drug war’s all for the children, you ignorant anarchists. I should report you on a website designed for reporting dissidents, or something otherwordly.

  9. I think I will stick with to weed.

  10. That guy looks awful calm considering all the crap that’s happening to him. Also, losing that much skin can’t be good.

    1. Yeah, that poster is confusing – I thought crack was the drug of choice for non- cute, white, young men. Shouldn’t there be some stove-up, nasty, alley-trash ho there – then you wouldn’t need the cutaway and call-outs to scare the chilluns.

  11. What are the criminal sentences for stealing the ribs from a Sears Men’s catalog underwear model?

  12. I love how criminal sentences get established or modified by a special commission instead of the outdated way of (a) Congress establishing the sentences for crimes and (b) the President commuting sentences if they’re excessive.

    But if elected officials made these decisions, then they might have face angry campaign ads. Better to put it off onto an appointed commission, so they can take credit for good results and express indignation for sentences they consider too lenient.

  13. Crack makes your torso translucent.

  14. fwiw, it is interesting the way certain drugs are used almost entirely along racial lines.

    it’s not “racism” in that the drug trade is not forcing people to selectively buy certain drugs.

    in my years in hawaii, lots of powder cocaine. i almost never saw crack. not a lot of black people in hawaii

    TONS of meth (used by mix race in hawaii), tons of powder cocaine (almost always white guys), tons of heroin (almost exclusively white guys), and of course everybody smokes weed

    here in the PAC NW, i have never encountered a “person of color” with crystal meth. ever. whatever you say about meth hysteria, it wasn’t “the darkies are evil” racism, because i have yet to even HEAR of a black person in a lab (and i’ve been in plenty) or making it, or selling it or…

    way more people are doign heroin now, because they are cracking down so hard on oxy, which was of course the predictable result. heroin is WAY cheaper and easier to get on a ‘bang for the buck’ basis, so it was just a matter of time for people to get over their fear of the needle.

    1. “not a lot of black people in hawaii”

      If Obama moves back, how much will the black population go up?

      1. By half?

    2. you are so right

  15. Crack heads are every where Teachers Lawyers Nurses that take care of newborn babys , Crack heads come in every color shape and form more black people sell it every color smokes it mostly the older generation that would be like in there 40’s or so that s whats what they experment with in there time …. Just because u sell crack and got caught dose not make u a horrible person . They never force any one to take it they just made bad decisions like every one dose at some point or another …. Its time to move and better then self everyone deserves a 2 nd chance .. If they are not killers and truley just took the wrong path

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