Efforts to equalize sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine possession took a significant step forward as the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security voted in favor of the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) eliminates current sentencing disparities, including removing the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine.
This reform has been long in the works. Policy makers from every level of government, including former President George W. Bush lobbied in support of legislation that would end sentencing disparities. Current sentences for crack cocaine offenses are approximately 100 times more severe than for powder cocaine offenses. The impact of those sentences has fallen disproportionately on the African-American community.
In response to the Subcommittee vote, Michael Macleod-Ball, Interim Director of the ACLU Washington Legislation Office said “This vote is an historic first step in ending a 20-year injustice. Lawmakers must act now to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing by treating both forms of the same drug equally under federal law. Congress alone has the authority to put a stop to the crack-poweder disparity and long mandatory minimum sentences.”
Equal treatment under the law is all this legislation is aimed for. Critics deride it as a “soft on crime” measure, despite the fact that the only goal is to create uniform punishments for uniform crimes. Doing so would bring some rationality and humanity to both our rehabilitative and punitive goals of dealing with drug offenders. Contact your Congressional representative and urge them to support the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009.
photo courtesy of Foxtounge via Flickr.