Senate passes compromise cocaine sentencing bill. Thanks, Senator Durbin.

Via the ACLU:

WASHINGTON – The Senate this evening voted by unanimous consent to pass a bill that would make crucial changes to current cocaine sentencing laws. The bill, the Fair Sentencing Act, was originally introduced by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) to eliminate the discriminatory 100-1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing under federal law. During the bill’s markup last week, however, a compromise was reached with Republican Judiciary Committee members that reduces the disparity to a 18-1 ratio. A bill addressing the disparity in the House, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act, was passed by the House Judiciary Committee last year and currently awaits a vote by the full chamber.

More than two decades ago, based on assumptions about crack which are now known to be false, heightened penalties for crack cocaine offenses were adopted. Sentences for crack are currently equivalent to the sentences for 100 times the amount of powder cocaine, and the impact falls disproportionately on African Americans. In recent years, a consensus has formed across the political and ideological spectrum on the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity issue with both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama urging reform.

The American Civil Liberties Union believes the Fair Sentencing Act is a step toward a fairer system but falls short of adequately fixing the existing unjust sentencing gap.

The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“The Fair Sentencing Act is an encouraging step toward eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine but still allows for a needlessly unfair sentencing framework. The unanimous passage of this bill speaks to the understanding across the political spectrum that this disparity is unjust and in need of reform. Years of research has yielded no evidence of any appreciable difference between crack and powder cocaine and yet we continue to inflict this disparity on Americans.

“For over two decades, this sentencing disparity has been a stain on our justice system. Though this bill’s passage is long overdue, it does not go far enough. Without a simple and fair 1-1 sentencing ratio for crack and powder cocaine, we cannot say that these sentencing laws meet constitutional muster.”

For those who don’t know how this sentencing disparity works, it’s not that crack sentences were 100 times as long as powder. It had to do with the amount of drug necessary to trigger a particular minimum.

Under the old method, 5 grams of crack would trigger a 5 year mandatory federal minimum, while it would take 500 grams of powder to trigger the same minimum. Durbin’s proposal had been to eliminate the difference entirely, so that crack would move to the same formula as powder.

The watered down version means that it’ll take about 28 grams of crack (instead of 5) to trigger the 5 year minimum, and the separate mandatory minimum for mere possession of crack is eliminated.

I wouldn’t call it a victory, but certainly a step in the right direction. And thanks to Dick Durbin for pushing for this. More could happen when this is reconciled with the House Bill, which passed with full elimination in committee, but has not been acted on by the full House.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Senate passes compromise cocaine sentencing bill. Thanks, Senator Durbin.

  1. Buc says:

    They had to compromise with the GOP judiciary committee.

    What the hell?

    What is the GOP’s problem?

    If they were just straight up honest, I could respect them a little bit. Just come out and say that you’re not for limited government and freedom, you’re for selective government and some freedoms.

    I guess their drug war boners just got divided by 5.5555

  2. Definitely a step in the right direction, but if there was some broader effort to legalize Coca leaf products such as the original Coca Cola and Vin Mariani, that would greatly undercut the market in concentrated cocaine.

  3. Shap says:

    As passionate as I am on this issue I still see this as a pretty incredible victory considering how the soft on crime label used to be the nail in the coffin for politicians’ political careers and being in favor of this type of legislation used to win you the soft on crime label. I feel like politicians would not have dared come close to this issue only 2 years ago. However, job is definitely not done….

  4. permanentilt says:

    I am not really that familiar with crack. But doesn’t it weigh more after you cook it? So if you were to cook up 1gram of coke, wouldn’t it make like 3 grams of crack? If so the discrepancy is still a lot more than 18-1.

  5. jacob says:

    It’s about time.
    Now let’s start letting out some of the non-violent prisoners.
    I have experimented with drugs, not crack, but cocaine and many others. I imagine if I had went to prison I would have taken a much darker path for my life.

  6. John Mola says:

    Since when did we punish drugs based on their relative dangers, anyway?

    As an SSDP member, we lobbied for this in November of 2008, so I suppose it is nice to see some progress now.

Comments are closed.