October 10, 2007 Leave a comment
I'm a little behind on this one, but I have not blogged on Crack for a while. In the 1980's, Congress passed mandatory minimum sentences for Crack that make punishment much, much heavier on crack users, who tend to be poor minorities, than on powder cocaine users, who tend to be rich White people. Much of this justification for the harsh Crack sentences has turned out to be entirely bogus. Law Professor Harlan Protass has the details in Slate:
grams of crack (roughly the weight of two sugar cubes) the same as 500
grams of powder cocaine (a “half-key” in Miami Vice-speak).
Both slap a defendant with a five-year mandatory minimum prison term,
and longer mandatory minimums ratchet up from there. When this 100-to-1
sentencing ratio was introduced, lawmakers believed that crack was
instantly addicting, with young people especially susceptible. They
feared a generation of “crack babies” would plague the nation's cities
for years to come, and they drew a straight line from crack
distribution to violent crime.
Since that time, the sentencing commission, in a series of reports to Congress, has shown that these ideas about crack are myths. Relying on a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association,
the commission noted that crack and powder cocaine are
pharmacologically identical and produce “the same physiological and
subjective effects.” The harm associated with prenatal exposure to the
drugs is also the same, and both crack and powder are significantly
less damaging in this regard than previously thought. Recent data also
indicate that only 10 percent of crack offenses involve violence, and
that use of the drug never reached the epidemic proportions that were
so often claimed.
What's more, the 1980s laws failed to achieve
the additional aim of locking up major drug traffickers. The sentencing
commission reported recently that only about one-third of crack
offenders are high-level operators. The overwhelming majority are
street dealers, couriers, and lookouts. Meanwhile, harsh crack
penalties disproportionately affect minorities. Of the 25,000 federal
defendants sentenced for crack offenses over the past five years, about
80 percent were black.
The good news is that the Supreme Court recently heard a case which should hopefully remedy this injustice:
Of course crack remains a dangerous drug, and those who deal and use it
should be punished. But those penalties should be fair. As the
sentencing commission has figured out, and the Supreme Court is likely
to, the current sentencing scheme is anything but.
Till then, you best stick with the powder .