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Monday, August 10, 2009

Abolish the Disparity Between Penalties for Powder and Crack Cocaine

crack cocaine reform
President Obama pledged in his campaign to abolish the disparity between penalties for powder and crack cocaine. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress now agree that crack sentencing rules need to be altered; and this may be the year that ball starts rolling in Congress. The idea that powder cocaine is safer than crack cocaine is a simply wrong, since 1986 the "100-to-1" drug ratio rule has been in place. This rule has been responsible for judges dealing extreme sentences for over 20 years, no second chances or opportunities for those convicted of selling or possession of crack. Unfair is the only word that can be used for the disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Naturally, drug dealers should serve time for their actions, but, the 100-to-1 rule is unjust and needs to be reformed as soon as possible.

According to Time.com "the mechanism is known as the "100-to-1 drug ratio," which gives crack cocaine 100 times the weight of powder cocaine. Under the ratio, a person convicted of selling five grams of crack — about the weight of a teaspoon of salt — triggers the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as a person convicted of selling 500 grams of powder cocaine, roughly the weight of a loaf of bread. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer believes that something needs to be done about the unfairness in the Judicial system. "The criminal-justice system must be fair, and it must be perceived as being fair," Breuer says. "The 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder is perhaps the single worst symbol of unfairness in the system. There really is no longer any basis for it." Reforming punishment is something that has been long overdue and it is great that people are wising up to the fact that there should not be discrepancies in punishment between cocaine powder and crack cocaine.

There is another aspect of this story that needs to be addressed regarding the Department of Justice not taking a position on retroactivity, but, Breuer says the issue is "being looked at hard". Doing away with the "100-to-1" rule would be a great move in making a fairer justice system; however, if the retroactive sentencing is not granted it would leave a lot of people already serving lengthy sentences in the same position. Mary Price, vice president and general counsel of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said "it would be cruelly ironic not to make that change available to the very people whose cases led our lawmakers to make this decision".

If old laws are smashed and new laws are formed, those new laws should trickle down to everyone regardless of when they were sentenced. The "100-to-1" rule was not fair to begin with and getting rid of it would lose its value if retroactivity is not a concern when passing new laws. If the justice system is only fair for some people then it is not fair for anyone and that is unacceptable; exceptions and exclusions should not have a place in the Judicial system with regard to people that were punished for the same crime but given different sentences. Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based reform group, asks: "If we've been doing something that's unfair for 23 years now, don't we have an obligation to address that unfairness?"

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