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.