Jasmine Tyler at (202) 294 - 8292 or Tony Newman at (646) 335 - 5384
Nearly a dozen advocacy groups will co-sponsor a national lobby day on Tuesday, April 28, bringing in voters from Utah, California, Oklahoma, New Jersey, South Carolina and other states to pressure key members of Congress to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.
Advocacy groups will hold a Breakfast Briefing with Members of Congress and victims of the federal disparity Tuesday morning. Chocolate bars weighing 50grams, the equivalent weight that would trigger a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence for crack cocaine, will be on hand to demonstrate to members of Congress just how small that quantity is compared to the 5000 grams – five kilos — of powered cocaine that garners the same penalty.
The 1986 and 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Acts created a disparity in sentencing between two forms of cocaine, crack cocaine and powder, at the federal level even though scientific evidence, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has proven that crack and powder cocaine have similar physiological and psychoactive effects on the human body. It takes only five grams of crack cocaine (the equivalent of the contents of two sugar packets) to receive a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same sentence.
As a presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama said the “war on drugs is an utter failure” and that he believes in “shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that focus more on a public health approach.” He also called for eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, repealing the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, and stopping the U.S. Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws. Within 24 hours of taking office, the White House website made clear that Obama’s campaign commitments to eliminate both the crack/powder disparity and the ban on syringe exchange funding were now official administration policy.
“The Obama Administration has articulated the need to address this issue by completely eliminating the disparity,” said Jasmine L. Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group that lobbies for alternatives to the war on drugs. “Current penalties for crack cocaine are excessively harsh and have little to do with an individual’s actual culpability and more to do with the color of their skin. It’s not fair. It’s not working.”
While,two-thirds of crack cocaine users are white or Latino according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 80 percent of those convicted in federal court for crack cocaine offenses in 2006 were African American.
Last year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission moderately reduced sentences for crack cocaine offenses and the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that judges have the right to sentence people below the guidelines in Kimbrough v. the
Thus far, two legislative proposals have been re-introduced in the House — one by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-TX, and one by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-VA. Both would end the disparity between powder and crack cocaine sentences. The Senate Crime and Drugs subcommittee will hold a hearing to discuss crack cocaine sentencing on Wednesday, April 29. The House Crime, Terror and Homeland Security committee also will hold a hearing on this issue on May 21.
“The stars are aligning to ensure Americans will no longer be subjected to the same draconian policy set in the late 80s, which flies in the face of scientific and legal research,” said