Detroit Free Press Editorial Calls For Elimination of Disparity in Crack Cocaine Sentences

file photo/dea
file photo/dea
The Detroit Free Press
Editorial Page

DETROIT — Members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously this week to narrow the unconscionable sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine. The notorious 100-1 ratio has no basis in science, while hitting poor people and African Americans especially hard. Along with other mandatory drug sentencing policies enacted in the mid-1980s, it helped triple the nation’s prison population.

Unfortunately, the watered-down Senate bill only narrows the disparities to roughly 20-1. Legislators need to strengthen this bill before sending it to the president. If disparities are baseless and socially egregious, why not just eliminate them?

Crack, usually purchased in rock form and smoked, is more frequently used by black and poor people. Powder cocaine is more often used by whites. Most states, including Michigan, rightly treat crack and powder cocaine the same. They are essentially the same drug in different forms; federal law should treat them accordingly. Under a policy Congress enacted in 1986, a drug offender caught with only 5 grams of crack cocaine gets a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. It takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to get the same stretch.

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