Sentencing Commission Takes First Step Towards Reducing Crack Cocaine Penalties

Before you get too excited, count me in the group (I hope there will be one) that is unimpressed with the action taken last night by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce crack cocaine penalties.

If I understand Law Prof Doug Berman's description (he's excited about the change) the mandatory minimums will stay in place and the reductions are these:



First-time offenses involving 5 grams or more of crack cocaine receive a sentencing guideline range of 63 to 78 months, and first-time offenses involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine receive a sentencing guideline range of 121 to 151 months, before accounting for other relevant factors under the guidelines.

Under the proposed Amendment,

...a first-time trafficking offense involving 5 grams of crack cocaine will receive a guideline sentencing range of 51 to 63 months, and a first-time trafficking offense involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine will receive a guideline sentencing range of 97 to 121 months, before accounting for other relevant factors under the guidelines. Under the statutory mandatory minimum penalties, however, a five- and ten-year sentence will still be required, respectively.

So for amounts between 5 and 50 grams of crack, it goes down from 63 to 78 months to 51 to 63 months, with 60 months still mandated.

For more than 50 grams of crack, it goes down from 121 to 151 months to 97 to 121 months, with 120 months still mandated.

Under the current statute and guidelines, it takes 500 grams and 5 kilos of powder cocaine,respectively, to trigger the 5 and 10 year mandatory minimum penalties. Currently, the guidelines for 5 grams of powder cocaine are 10 to 16 months and the guidelines for 50 grams of powder are 21 to 27 months, for first offenders.

FAMM calls it a great first step.

We don't need a first step. We need real reform. How many more years will these crack offenders do while waiting for Congress and the Commission to go the second, third and fourth steps, until the crack penalties come down to where they should be, the same as those for powder cocaine.

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    penalties (none / 0) (#1)
    by diogenes on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 11:12:03 PM EST
    Crack is more dangerous and socially problematic than powder, so penalties should be higher.  Also, these mandatory minimums are for TRAFFICKING, so the hapless drug USER can get treatment rather than years in prison.

    How Do You Know That? (none / 0) (#3)
    by squeaky on Sun Apr 29, 2007 at 03:46:42 PM EST
    the "crack" is more dangerous (none / 0) (#4)
    by Deconstructionist on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 07:40:28 AM EST
     line is dubious. The only significant difference is that powder is a salt and crack (and other base) has been treated to isolate (or "free" which is why the solvent prouced base is called "free base") the cocane alkaloids without the salt, resulting in a lower melting point which allows it to be smoked.

      Pharmacologically the 2 are basically idntical, and the early assetions that "crack" or base is more addictive has never been verified through empirical testing. The other assertion has always been that because smoke in the lungs is absorbed into the blood stream and metabolized more rapidly than powder is ingested through nasal membranes, the high is more immediate and more intense. This may be true but when comparing the "dangerousness" of the 2 forms, it makes sense to acknowledge by far the most dangerous method of ingestion which is intravenous injection or shooting ip. True, it is less common but it is far more dangerous than smoking crack.

       As for the "socially problenatic" aspects, this has always basically been a racially and socio-economically based argument-- essentially that when poor, often minority, people do something it is a greater social problem. By the same rationale, MD 20/20  and Vladimir vodka are are greater social problems than Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Grey Goose. Maybe so, but would it be proper or fair to classify them differently legally?

      Hhowever, none of that is the biggest reason why the crack:powder disparity is stupid and wrong. the biggest reason is that we know:

      (a) all crack starts as powder
      (b) the smugglers and biggest dealers deal only with powder but a percentage of that powder will become crack
       (c) Even most "mid-level" dealers deal exclusively in powder.
       (d) the "cooking" is typically done just a step or two above the end-user by the lowest levels of drug dealers.

      Thus, the "big time" dealers  (who are harder to catch too) when caught almost always evade the impact of the "crack" penalties and relative to the low-level folks who do get smacked with the crack penalties do not receive "proportional punishment. The little guys get crack sentences and the big guys get powder sentences for which it takes 100x the amount to result in the sane sentencing range.


    No penalties at all (none / 0) (#2)
    by bernarda on Sun Apr 29, 2007 at 08:52:46 AM EST
    Alchohol and tobacco are "dangerous" mind-altering drugs. But they are tolerated. All drugs should put in the same case.

    There should be no penalties at all for usage of any drug. Of course laws like drunk-driving laws could still apply.

    Then if usage is going to be accepted, you need providers, or as wingnuts like to call them, traffickers.

    So, you have licensed providers like for alcohol and cigarettes. Guess what? The illegal traffickers disappear because the licensed providers sell the products at a reasonable price and the enormous profits from the illegal trade disappear. Poof.

    I suspect that lawmakers, politicians, and police that propagandize for the "war on drugs" more often than not are making, or have made, fortunes from their investments in the illicit trade, you know, people like the Bush family.

    That this post (none / 0) (#5)
    by Deconstructionist on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 09:31:20 AM EST
     sits here without any type of response is the kind of thing that really makes it easy for people to dismiss the Left as irresponsible.

      I know most people on the Left do not believe that "more often than not" politicians and police who push the "war on drug" invest in the "illicit trade" and consider such allegation STUPID AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE, yet HERE this and similar conspiracy theory foolishness not only often goes unchallenged, people who do challenge it get attacked for not being true belivers.

      Plenty of good arguments against the "war on drugs" exist. Why allow them to be stained with a guilt by association smear made easy when these sorts of posts draw no flak?