Why Are Crack and Powder Cocaine Treated Differently in Criminal Cases?

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Hartford Drug Possession LawyerCocaine is an illegal controlled substance, and those who are found in possession of this drug may face criminal charges for drug possession or distribution. However, cocaine comes in two forms: powder cocaine and "crack" cocaine. Even though both forms of cocaine are functionally equivalent, they are treated differently in the eyes of the law. This disparity has led to harsh sentences for those who are charged with offenses related to crack cocaine, and Black people have been disproportionately affected, meaning that they are likely to be convicted and serve longer sentences.

Disproportionate Approaches to Different Forms of Cocaine

Crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same substance. Crack is created by mixing powder cocaine with water and baking soda to create "rocks" that are smoked rather than snorted. Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the amount of cocaine that triggered a mandatory minimum sentence differed wildly depending on whether a person was found in possession of powder cocaine or crack. While a minimum five-year sentence would apply for someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine, just 5 grams of crack cocaine would result in the same sentence.

These harsher penalties have had a disproportionate impact on Black communities, who are more likely to be arrested for crack cocaine offenses than white or Latino people. In fact, even though white and Latino people make up 66 percent of crack users, 81 percent of people who were convicted for crack cocaine trafficking in 2019 were Black, and just 5 percent were white. 

The U.S. Congress has passed laws to address this issue, but disparities continue to exist. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine. Instead of a 100-to-one ratio for mandatory minimum sentencing, the law now has an 18-to-one ratio. The First Step Act of 2018 made this change retroactive, ensuring that sentencing provisions would apply to people who had been convicted before 2010. However, this is still a significant disparity, and Black people continue to be disproportionately affected.

To further reduce the disparity or eliminate it altogether, Congress is currently considering a few different possible changes to the law. The Equal Act, which was introduced in 2021, would completely eliminate the disparity, giving crack and powder cocaine the same sentencing provisions, and it would make these changes retroactive. Even though this bill has bipartisan support, lawmakers are struggling to pass it. An alternative proposal has suggested a 2.5-to-one ratio, although it would do so by increasing the sentencing provisions for powder cocaine, which is likely a step in the wrong direction. Criminal justice advocates are continuing to push for reform to the drug laws in the United States that will protect public safety and allow people to receive treatment for addiction rather than facing harsh criminal punishments.

Contact Our Connecticut Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer

The disparity between how powder cocaine and crack cocaine are treated in criminal cases is unfair and unjust. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we work to protect the rights of those who have been charged with drug crimes, and we fight to ensure that our clients are treated fairly. If you have been charged with possession or distribution of cocaine or other controlled substances, contact our Hartford drug charges defense attorney at 860-290-8690 and set up a free consultation today.

 

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/09/15/equal-act-crack-powder-cocaine-disparity/

https://famm.org/wp-content/uploads/Crack-Disparity-One-Pager.pdf

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