Now is the Time to Crack the Disparity Once and For All!

As President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden prepare to assume their new roles — and the 111th Congress, with its strengthened majorities in both the House and the Senate for Democrats, gears up to tackle the many pressing problems confronting our country — advocates who have been pushing for years to eliminate the infamous 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine are energized and excited about the prospects of finally correcting this shameful stain on our criminal justice system.

For those who may not be familiar with this issue, current federal sentencing law punishes crack cocaine offenders far more severely for simple possession than any other drug offenders, for the same offense. Possessing or dealing five grams of crack cocaine results in the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as dealing 500 grams of powder cocaine.This counterproductive policy subjects low-level and non-violent participants to the same or harsher sentences as high-level traffickers and violent criminals. It has also had a particularly devastating impact on African American and low-income communities, while diverting precious federal resources from addressing the root causes of drug abuse and addiction.

The ACLU, along with a coalition of criminal justice and drug policy reform organizations held a lobby day this past February to support efforts in Congress to finally bring some fairness to this issue by eliminating the disparity between crack and powder cocaine entirely. (A video of that day’s events can be found here.)

Imagine my excitement reading the Obama/Biden transition agenda’s civil rights section to discover the incoming-administration’s support for ending the disparity. If that wasn’t enough to get me geared up, I was further energized when reading two CQ (that’s Congressional Quarterly for those outside-the-beltway readers) articles earlier this week by Keith Perine and Seth Stern that stated that the House and Senate Judiciary Committees are both likely to address the sentencing disparity during the 111th Congress. Keith wrote of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

There also is bipartisan sentiment on the panel for reducing, if not eliminating, the current 100-to-1 disparity in the amount of powdered and crack cocaine that triggers mandatory minimum prison sentences. The issue is of particular interest to Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., the vice president-elect, who introduced legislation (S. 1711) in the 110th Congress to equalize sentences for cocaine offenses.

Having a vice president who previously championed legislation in Congress to end the disparity will hopefully help to elevate this issue in the new administration.

As you can see, there is much to be hopeful about.  However, as with all civil rights and social justice struggles, action will ultimately happen because activists (like the over 500,000 strong in the ACLU) demand it. Are you ready? I know I am. It’s time to crack this discriminatory disparity once and for all!

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"Possessing or dealing five grams of crack cocaine results in the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as dealing 500 grams of powder cocaine."

For metric-impaired readers, one sixth of an ounce of crack cocaine (about the weight of a quarter) results in the same minimum sentence as a pound of powder.


WTF you want, lower it for crack or raise it for coke ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Ian Thompson, ACLU

Thanks for the question.

The ACLU specifically supports –
• Equalizing the quantities of crack cocaine that trigger federal prosecution and sentencing and increasing it to the current levels of powder cocaine (S. 1711 would do this).
• Eliminating mandatory minimums for crack and powder cocaine, allowing judges to exercise appropriate discretion and consider mitigating factors in sentencing.


Are there any states that dont allow a background check for a folony prior to 10 years.

Mike P

Yes, don't raise it for coke. That would still be the same result as unjust punishment for the crime. Abolish the minimum mandatory and put the power back into the hands of the judge and out of the prosecutors. 5 years for 5 grams of crack is insane. Thats 1 year for each gram that is only really worth about $250 in the real world. Not $500 like they always THINK. To get the same 5 years you would need to possess 500 grams of cocaine which is worth about 300k on a open market. You do the math


Get rid of mandatory minimums period.


How will this correct the problem of Judges discriminating against color of skin? We still need to do something about the racial disparity in our judicial system. My husband is currently in a federal prison for count 8, knowingly and willingly allowing drugs to be distributed in his Dad's business. Never touched drugs or drug money. Never had a record for anything in his entire life. This is a low income drug neighborhood which his father has owned this business for almost 40 yrs. The drug problem has been going on even before the business was built. The gov't said my husband and his father did nothing to try to stop it. THIS IS CRAZY. My husband worked for a local factory, G.E. for almost 25 yrs. and we lost everything due to this charge. Even though he was not guilty, he was told upfront, if you do not take this charge, we will charge your Dad. His Dad is 75 yrs. old, very sick and now has dimentia. They took posession of the property, which is what the city has been trying to do for many years. Like the local paper said, "this is a prime piece of property". I have written to everyone I can think of including the November Coalition who is currently working on a story about my husband to bring media attention to this. My husband is black and I am a white female. I know see what others go threw, being a mixed couple. We have the kind of love relationship most people never find in their lifetime. I will keep trying to find someone to help undo the wrong that's been done to such a wonderful, caring man. I tell him all the time that God must have something good instore for him after he comes home. He gave up his life and freedom to keep the gov't from charging his Dad.


Honestly I think that Congress should re-evaluate its policy on this issue:

1. a determination as to why possession of crack-cocaine and possession of powder-cocaine are classified as different "offenses," and whether that distinction should continue (does the current form of the same narcotic really justify a different "offense" for possession?);

2. a determination as to an appropriate sentence range for the crime involved. Even if Congress is concerned with some sort of connection between crack-cocaine and violent crime (part of the reason this has been upheld in court), it would make more sense to consider violence as a separate "aggravating circumstance" in sentencing.

Regardless, there really is no good policy reason for unequal sentencing here.


This would further confirm the fact that the ACLU folks are on crack.

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