Cocaine Sentencing Disparity Bill Clears Senate Committee

A bill that makes penalties for possession of crack and powdered cocaine somewhat more equitable was easily approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is headed for a vote in the full Senate, the New York Times reported March 11.


The panel voted unanimously to advance a bill that would require mandatory prison time for anyone found in possession of 28 grams of crack. Currently, mandatory penalties are triggered by possession of 5 grams of crack, comparable to possessing 500 grams of powdered cocaine.


“This solution is far from perfect, but it offers an opportunity to get this done and make an important and bipartisan change in this policy this year, one that will move us closer to achieving fairness in our sentencing laws,” said committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).


The U.S. House of Representatives last year passed a bill that would equalize penalties for crack and powdered cocaine.

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Cocaine Sentencing Disparity Would End Under Bill

A bill introduced in Congress would equalize penalties for offenses involving crack and powdered cocaine, the Washington Post reported Oct. 16.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the bill, which would increase the quantity of crack cocaine required to trigger a mandatory prison sentence. Under current law, it takes 100 times more powdered cocaine to earn mandatory jail time as it does for crack cocaine.

“The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has contributed to the imprisonment of African Americans at six times the rate of whites and to the United States’ position as the world’s leader in incarcerations,” said Durban. “It’s time for us to act.” 

The legislation, the Fair Sentencing Act, also calls for harsher penalties for large-scale drug traffickers and those who commit violent crimes. Companion legislation has already cleared a House committee. Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said that “no institution stands in the way of crack cocaine changes. Every piece is in place to make this decades-past-due reform a reality.” 

President Obama expressed support for sentencing equalization during the election campaign, but his administration has not formally endorsed the Durbin bill. Durbin, however, said that the administration has been supportive and that he is seeking Republican cosponsors for the measure.

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Cocaine Sentencing Disparity Would End Under Bill

A bill introduced in Congress would equalize penalties for offenses involving crack and powdered cocaine, the Washington Post reported Oct. 16.


Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the bill, which would increase the quantity of crack cocaine required to trigger a mandatory prison sentence. Under current law, it takes 100 times more powdered cocaine to earn mandatory jail time as it does for crack cocaine.


“The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has contributed to the imprisonment of African Americans at six times the rate of whites and to the United States' position as the world's leader in incarcerations,” said Durban. “It's time for us to act.” 


The legislation, the Fair Sentencing Act, also calls for harsher penalties for large-scale drug traffickers and those who commit violent crimes. Companion legislation has already cleared a House committee. Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said that “no institution stands in the way of crack cocaine changes. Every piece is in place to make this decades-past-due reform a reality.” 


President Obama expressed support for sentencing equalization during the election campaign, but his administration has not formally endorsed the Durbin bill. Durbin, however, said that the administration has been supportive and that he is seeking Republican cosponsors for the measure.

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