The Obama administration Wednesday asked Congress to end the disparity in penalties for use of crack- and powder-cocaine crimes, a stance sure to bring on contentious debate from the law-enforcement community.
"The Administration believes Congress’s goal should be to completely eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine," said assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division.
Under current law, someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine gets a five-year sentence, while it takes only five grams of crack cocaine to trigger the same sentence, even though there is no physiological difference.
More than half of all federal inmates were convicted of drug offenses, and in today’s economic climate, perhaps the need to cut costs will bring some sanity to our drug laws. Of course, there are those who think that a 1:1 ratio would be just fine as long as you multiplied the powder cocaine punishments by 100, rather than by dividing the crack sentencing guidelines by the same amount:
James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents about 325,000 uniformed officers, said that while his group is against the disparity, it would rather see it rectified by increasing the penalties for powder cocaine. "There is a widespread misconception that crack dealers are somehow being victimized by the government," he said. "It is extraordinarily difficult to victimize a criminal unless that person first commits a crime."
But you can indeed victimize a “criminal” by overpunishing him for his “crime”. Folks caught with small amounts of marijuana are criminals, aren’t they? Therefore it’s automatically OK to give them a 5 year sentence? 25 years? They aren’t victims, they are criminals… so any punishment is justified. (Folks not caught with marijuana are also criminals, of course…)
Mr. Pasco added that the disparity could be eliminated by lowering the amount of powder cocaine it takes to trigger the five-year sentence.
A while back Greenfield commented on one of the problems with “niche blogging”: eventually you’re going to end up repeating yourself. I paused for a quick search of my archives, because this story was ringing a pretty loud bell with me, and up pops one of my first posts ever (from November 2006):
If this isn’t shocking on its face, please reread this last quote again. Outloud. Then read it to a friend and ask them their reaction to it.
The Fraternal Order of Police would support increasing the penalties for offenses involving powder cocaine through a reduction in the quantity of powder necessary to trigger the 5- and 10-year mandatory minimum sentences, thereby decreasing the gap between the two similar offenses and addressing the concerns of those who question the current ratio without depriving law enforcement with the tools they need to control the possession, use, and sale of powder cocaine.
The 5-year mandatory minimum sentence can be triggered by 5 grams of crack cocaine. How much is 5 grams of something? 5 Sweet-and-Low packets worth of cocaine is 5 grams. So his solution to the disparity problem…increase the penalties for powder, rather than decreasing them for crack! So the disparity is a problem, one best solved by even more prison building.
The difference is that in 2006 we were still paying up to a million dollars a pop for houses worth less than half that amount, while applying for credit cards and taking out third mortgages. Not to mention the billions being paid by CEOs of car companies to themselves for doing such a good job. Now that we’re out of money, legislators have some political cover for undoing what they did a long time ago.
With every cloud a silver lining, eh? Well maybe this big-R Recession’s silver lining will be sanity in sentencing, since we can literally no longer afford huge sentences for drug addicts.