Pubdate: Wed, 26 Jul 2006
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2006 News World Communications, Inc.
Author: Stefanie Hausner
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


A bipartisan group of four U.S. senators, all former state attorneys 
general, presented legislation yesterday to reduce the disparity in 
prison sentences for those caught with crack cocaine and those caught 
with powdered cocaine. That disparity in federal sentencing 
guidelines is currently 100-to-1. It would be reduced to 20-to-1 
under a measure introduced yesterday by Republican Sens. Jeff 
Sessions of Alabama and John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sens. 
Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Ken Salazar of Colorado. The Drug 
Sentencing Reform Act of 2006 would reduce the disparity by 
decreasing the amount of crack cocaine necessary to trigger the 
mandatory minimum sentencing and introducing a "modest increase on 
powders," said Mr. Sessions, who presented a similar Senate bill in 
2001. Currently, possession of 500 grams of powdered cocaine results 
in a five-year mandatory minimum sentencing. It takes only 5 grams of 
crack cocaine to warrant a similar sentence.

The senators propose shifting the sentencing amounts to 400 grams of 
powder and 20 grams of crack cocaine. The bill would bring about 
"tougher sentences on the worst and most violent drug offenders and 
less severe sentences on lower-level, nonviolent offenders," said Mr. 
Sessions, adding that the measure would shift the emphasis in 
sentencing from drug quantity to the type of criminal act committed 
in distributing drugs. "This does not signal that we are going soft 
on crime," Mr. Sessions told reporters yesterday.

He said that "much crime is driven by drug use," but that as a former 
federal prosecutor, he has "valid concerns in the disparity between 
crack and powder." Mr. Cornyn said his prior experience as attorney 
general of Texas showed him that "laws should be firm but fair. We 
not only need just laws, but they need the appearance and reality of 
fairness." The crack/powder sentencing disparity -- which has 
resulted in higher incarceration rates for blacks convicted of drug 
crimes -- long has been targeted by groups such as the Leadership 
Conference on Civil Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. In 
2000, more than 84 percent of those sentenced for crack cocaine 
distribution were black, while 9 percent were Hispanic and 5 percent 
were white.

By contrast, 30 percent of those sentenced for powdered cocaine were 
black, 50 percent were Hispanic and 15 percent were white. The 
senators are trying to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack 
and powdered cocaine, but not remove it. "Crack is a more dangerous 
commodity," Mr. Sessions said. Although powdered cocaine is usually 
snorted, crack is usually smoked.

Mr. Sessions said crack is more addictive and causes more paranoia 
and violence than powdered cocaine.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman