Cocaine Bill To Equal Punishment For

Press Release March 14, 2005
Media Contact

Simeon Gant at (916) 202-1636

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Public Safety Committee voted to approve AB 125 today, with a 4-2 vote.

The bill authored by Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) would remove the disparity in sentencing for “crack” cocaine and powder cocaine. Mr. Dymally detailed his passion for authoring the legislation, “Since my time in Congress, several years ago, we have been working on changing this law. It shows a clear racial bias in sentencing.”

Judge Ladoris Cordell (ret.) told the committee that she presided over numerous cases in which African Americans were being incarcerated for longer periods of time for the same crime whites were accused of; the difference being the form of cocaine. She said, “…intended or unintended – you lawmakers are now on notice of this law’s discriminatory impact. If you fail to pass up this opportunity to correct this glaring imbalance, the message you will send to judges, lawyers, communities of color…is that you are content to perpetuate this form of legalized discrimination.”

Other witnesses in support of the legislation included, Peter Laarman of Progressive Christians Uniting, ACLU, NAACP and Jim Lindburg of the Friends Committee on Legislation.

The Legislation will next be debated in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Currently Judges are required to sentence possession for sale of powder cocaine for 2 – 4 years in state prison. Cocaine base, otherwise known as ‘crack cocaine’, will get an offender 3-5 years.

While scientific studies declare no difference in physiological or psychoactive effects between cocaine base and powder cocaine, sentencing guidelines result in racial inequity in prosecution.

2001 Department of Justice statistics show African Americans made up 70% of the arrests for crack cocaine while whites made up only 4.7% arrested with only 3.2% convicted. 67.2% of those convicted were African American.

Glenn Backes of the Drug Policy Alliance reminded the committee that President George Bush said in his 2005 State of the Union Address, “Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief in equal justice, we need to make sure Americans of all races and backgrounds have confidence in the system that provides justice.” Backes echoed the concerns raised by Judge Cordell, “Bad laws weaken respect for good laws, and threaten public safety.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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