Congress Weighs Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing

By Kamika Dunlap on March 05, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two bills which aim to end the disparity between sentencing for crack cocaine and powdered cocaine convictions are up for consideration.

Currently, Congress is considering changing the sentencing guidelines for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

According to a New York Times editorial, bills are pending in both the House (Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009) and Senate (Fair Sentencing Act of 2009). Pushing through new legislation to end racial disparity would not only put punishment for possession of crack and powder on the same level but help create sound public policy.

As previously discussed, the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine draws a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years. The same minimum sentence applies for sale or possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine.

Many civil rights advocates have decried this differing treatment of different forms of the same drug as racially biased, since African-Americans make up 85 percent of those convicted of crack offenses, as previously discussed.

Today's drug sentencing laws date back to the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts in the late 1980s. The national drug problem during that era led to violence in the inner cities and much harsher penalties that targeted low-level offenders, particularly African-American males.

President Obama made changes in the crack-powder disparity part of his presidential campaign.

So far, the administration is addressing the sentencing disparity and what it would take to overhaul the current law from 1986.

While the debate over sentencing continues, the Justice Department is working on recommendations for a new set of sentences for cocaine.

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