Crack-Powder Cocaine Action Alert Day

Today is the National Call-In Day for the "Crack the Disparity" National Month of Advocacy, a month-long coordinated push to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Help flood Congress with calls. Call your federal lawmakers today and tell them that it is time to end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

Tell your elected officials that the current law:

  • overstates the relative danger of crack cocaine to powder cocaine;
  • contributes to the growth of our prison population, increasing the financial burden on taxpayers;
  • disproportionately affects African Americans; and
  • uses limited federal resources on low-level street dealers rather than on the major drug traffickers.

Follow this link or visit here to get talking points and contact information for your federal senators and representative.

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    How about this (none / 0) (#1)
    by bocajeff on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 09:29:53 AM EST
    They both should be legalized thus allowing free people to behave freely. Thus, we have freedom. The financial and social aspects pale in comparison to freedom.

    I agree with you (none / 0) (#2)
    by Capt Howdy on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 09:57:16 AM EST
    but speaking as someone who has experience with each, both personally and seeing how it effects others, I have to agree that crack is far FAR more dangerous and addictive.

    obviously I dont thing stiffer sentencing is the answer for dealing with it but the greater danger of crack is undeniable.


    There is no empirical evidence (none / 0) (#5)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:56:55 AM EST
    -- despite many studies-- showing that crack is more addictive than powder, or more dangerous than powder cocaine when consumed in similar amounts.

       That said, I don't discount the anectdotal evidence entirely just because it is anectdotal. It is possible, and perhaps the fact for some people, that crack is more dangerous because the personal  preference for immediate intense high causes them develop stronger cravings and use more crack. It's also possible that because crack is cheaper per typical dose (because the typical dose of crack simply contains less cocaine) it is more easily abused. It might also be a factor that it less physically destructive to smoke all the time than to be constantly snorting so snorters self-regulate more.

      On the other hand, it would appear inarguable that the most dangerous way to use cocaine is to inject it and that is only done with cocaine HCL (powder). Of course way fewer people will choose to inject anything so while that is the most dangerous it is also by far the least common.

      In terms of law enforcement and punishment though, even if we were to accept as fact that the use of crack is more dangerous that would not provide a logical basis for the differential punishment. Why?

      Because all cocaine products regardless of how ingested by the ultimate user begin as cocaine powder. The smugglers and large scale distributors do not have direct involvement with crack and they are the very people a logical policy would target for the most severe punishment.

      Cocaine HCL is converted to crack  down the ladder in distribution chains and laws creating harsher punishments for crack necessarily impact the street level peddlers not the big time distributors because if one sells 100 kilos of powder to someone who then sell 20 kilos of powder to five people who each sell 5 kilos of powder to four people who each sell 1 kilo of powder to five people then those four people sell to people who finally cook it into crack there is no way the people near the top can be attributed crack in the vast majority of cases. The conversion is just to attenuated and  the proof of such a broad conspiracy and forseeabilty of the conversion  just can't be established. And, I'm being conservative by suggesting that the powder is cooked into crack even that high in the distribution change, often it is down to  fraction of ounce quantities before cooking.

      Is it either fair or smart for a guy who cooks 5 grams into crack to be facing a mandatory 5 year sentence when a guy way up the chain who sold nearly 5 kilos of powder from which that crack is derived might receive a similar or even lesser sentence if both are convicted?



    try it (none / 0) (#6)
    by Capt Howdy on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:21:03 AM EST
    that answer was rather filp (none / 0) (#7)
    by Capt Howdy on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:48:23 AM EST
    I am not debating any of the sentencing stuff.  at all.
    what I am saying is that I have been around for a long time and I like drugs and I am curious.  hence I have tried pretty much every drug you can name.  if you can name one I have not, do it.  I would like to try it.
    many of my long time friends feel the same way.  I have always seen myself as one who could do any drug and never become "addicted".  many of my friends feel the same way and I felt the same way about them.
    then crack came along.  I saw people fall to crack addiction who had shown no inclination to be come "addicted" to anything else.  from powder coke to morphine to heroin.  
    crack is a unique substance.  it is quite simply the most addictive substance I have ever come across.  from the time your body processes the first hit you are thinking about how to get more.
    I dont know why this is but it is.  you can debate sentencing guidelines all you want but to suggest crack is not SINGULARLY dangerous and addictive and to try to group it with other recreational drugs is, in my opinion, irresponsible and you simply dont know what you are talking about.
    if you really want to know what you are talking about there is really only one way.
    try it and see for yourself.

    As I said (none / 0) (#8)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 12:25:25 PM EST
      I don't entirely discount the anectdotal evidence. I haven't and don't intend to try it for the sake of a first hand opinion which would be meaningless in any event because I have never used any drugs other than alcohol and hallucinogens with which to compare it.

      What you describe though sounds little different than what some people experience with alcohol and I believe that for some people it is more dangerous than powder or crack.
    I do in fact  know people who used crack and either never developed into habitual use or were able to quit but can't quit drinking to excess. For other people it might be methamphetamine, for some it might be opiates, and for some it might be powder cocaine or something else.  

      It may be that for unknown reasons crack affects a higher proportion of its users  that way than other drugs but there is no empirical evidence of that or of the claim that converting cocaine HCL from the salt to a base makes it more addictive or that it presents more acute dangers than the use of similar amounts of cocaine HCL.

    Some people constantly did or do all sorts of different drugs depending on availability, mood or whatever  and thus don't appear to have an "addiction" either physical or psychological to a particular drug in any meaningful clinical sense but that the poly-substance abuse harmed them is often undeniable.

      From the begining of time humans have sought to deliberately alter their consciousness by ingesting intoxicants and many of them have harmed themselves from the use of one or more substance.

      I don't say we should ignore peole who have used many different drugs and state they find crack to have been the most dangerous. I'm just saying that is not evidence that is true for everyone. Experiential anectdotes can certainly be helpful in developing targeted treatment regimens and may help more broadly understand the nature of drug abuse, but they don't provide a solid basis for penal schemes.


    "I'm just saying (none / 0) (#9)
    by Capt Howdy on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 01:19:06 PM EST
    is not evidence that is true for everyone"

    only those who have actually, you know, used it.


    Is this still going on? (none / 0) (#3)
    by eric on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:05:56 AM EST
    I though this had been fixed.  Guess not.  In Minnesota, the disparity in sentencing was struck down in 1991.

    there has been change (none / 0) (#4)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:27:06 AM EST
     in 2 ways:

      The former across the board 100:1 crack/powder quantity ratio in the federal sentencing guidelines now ranges from 25:1 to 80:1 at various quantity levels. with the net result being most crack offenders are two levels lower than before-- but the guideline disparity is still huge.

     Second, since Kimbrough it is now established that sentencing courts may impose a variance sentence below the guidelines in crack cases because of a policy disagreement with the effect of applying the crack guidelines in a particular case.

      This is better than before, but large majority of people convicted of crack offenses still receive substantially longer sentences than otherwise similarly situated people convicted of powder offenses involving the same or similar quantities.

    iow, (none / 0) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 02:01:02 PM EST
    the organizers of the "National Call-In Day for the "Crack the Disparity" National Month of Advocacy," aka, "NCIDCDNMA," should reschedule for Dec or Jan.

    So are crackheads dumb? (none / 0) (#13)
    by diogenes on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 02:19:24 PM EST
    If there is much more prison time for crack than powder cocaine although they are the "same", then why doesn't everyone just use and deal powder?  In fact, powder was around throughout the seventies and earlier, but it was crack that devastated poor neighborhoods in the eighties and created "crack hos", etc.  

    ummm (none / 0) (#14)
    by CST on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 02:23:50 PM EST
    crack is cheap

    cocaine is expensive

    next question?


    The smart ones (none / 0) (#15)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 03:27:35 PM EST
     don't get near crack. You can make way more money with less exposure selling substantial quantities of powder and letting the customers of your customers' customers cook it and sell the crack.

      Those people sell crack because there is a market for it and they can make more money (or keep themselves in crack) selling crack than they can doing other things but if they had what it takes to get higher in the echelons they'd probably do it.

      Crack is cheap  because it is adulterated (air, moisture, unreacted sodium bicarbonate, in addition to the cut in the purchased cocaine powder) and sold in small doses. A gram of coke sold for 80$ might produce 10 rocks sold for $20 in some places or even 50 tiny ones sold for $5.

     It's the price point that has probably the biggest influence on its popularity in poor neighborhoods and with young kids.

      Freebase cocaine is less popular than crack not only because it is more dangerous to produce but because it is much more expensive because it is much more pure. When cocaine HCL is dissolved in  water the impurities remain solid and are filtered off, then ammonia is added resulting in the conversion to an alkaline which is not soluble in water and the solid free base can then be extracted by mixing with ether (the dangerous part) and agitating. The solids then dissolve in the ether and since ether and water don't mix after allowing to rest, the ether/freebase solution can be siphoned off from the water and when the highly volatile ether evaporates you have free base which is nearly pure cocaine.

      We never had a "freebase epidemic" not because it is safer than crack but because it is not only way more expensive than crack it is even  more expensive than powder because the process removes any adulterants.



    apples and oranges? (none / 0) (#16)
    by brew on Fri Apr 24, 2009 at 10:15:30 AM EST
    I feel the comparison of powder and crack sentencing guidelines is incorrect. A much better comparison, IMO, would be crack to meth. The cheap cost, method of ingestion, socio-economic status of users, devastation to families and neighborhoods, etc. are much more similar, and would be more useful in determining racial disparity in sentencing since, like powder cocaine, meth is much more prevalent in white populations. Does anyone have any revelent numbers?

    i don't have any stats (none / 0) (#17)
    by Bemused on Fri Apr 24, 2009 at 11:43:21 AM EST
     but I have never had a black client in a meth case. The vast majority are wasps with a couple of hispanics.

      the methe guidelines were bumped up in the 90s and being cynical i do believe it was at least in part to counter arguments about the reacial disparity resulting from the crack guidelines.

     Meth actually has 2 columns in the drug table-- one for meth mix and one for pure meth. It takes 1/10th the amount of pure meth as meth mix to result in the same offense level as pure meth.

      The pure meth guidelines  are actually more severe than the crack guidelines, but at least in my experience cases involving pure meth are rare.