Jasmine Tyler at 202-294-8292 or Bill Piper at 202-669-6430
The House Judiciary Committee passed legislation today overturning federal sentencing policies that treat crack cocaine offenses one hundred times more severely than powder cocaine offenses. Under current law it takes 500 grams of powder to trigger the five-year sentence, but only five grams of crack results in the same term. Even though the majority of crack users are white, African-Americans make up more than 80 percent of federal defendants sentenced for crack cocaine offenses. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, no other federal law is more responsible for racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system.
“It makes no more sense to punish crack cocaine offenders more harshly than powder cocaine offenders than it does to punish wine drinkers more harshly than beer drinkers. Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug,” said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for alternatives to the war on drugs. “When all is said and done people will look back at this as a watershed moment – the day that Congress began rolling back some of the drug war’s worst excesses.”
Both President Obama and Vice-President Biden have spoken in support of eliminating the disparity. In numerous statements, Justice Department officials have called on Congress to eliminate the disparity this year. A coalition of civil rights, criminal justice and religious organizations are organizing in DC and around the country to get reform legislation to Obama’s desk so he can sign it.