Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crack-Powder Sentencing Disparity

Reduced by Congress

Ryan Grimm/HuffPo

Congress addressed a historic wrong on Wednesday afternoon, replacing it instead with a slightly lesser wrong, when the House voted to reduce the disparity in the sentencing of people caught with crack cocaine versus powder cocaine.

To be charged with a felony, crack users needed to possess only 5 grams of the drug. To be hit with the same charge, powder cocaine users needed to be caught with 500 grams. This 100-to-1 disparity has frequently been cited by drug war opponents as exhibit A to buttress their claim that drug laws are racist.

Pending President Obama's signature, the new law will reduce that disparity to 18-to-1. The threshold for crack cocaine in the new law will be 28 grams; the powder level remains the same.

The moment on the House floor came and went fairly quickly, but the ease with which the bill passed belied a lot of behind-the-scenes activity.

As of Friday, the bill was not on the calendar to be considered this week. But on Saturday at the Netroots Nation conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked about the disparity and said that she expected the bill to come up the next week. It was placed on the calendar on Tuesday.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) controls the floor schedule and has been pushing on the issue for several weeks, working "hand in glove," according to one Senate aide, with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who sponsored the upper chamber's version of the disparity fix. The Senate aide said that Hoyer was late to a bicameral leadership meeting Tuesday night because he was still making calls to nail down support for the legislation.

A key question was whether Republicans would demand a roll call or allow it to pass by a voice vote. Few vulnerable politicians, in an election year, want to vote on anything that could be cast as being soft on crack cocaine. Hoyer worked directly with House Republicans to assuage some of their concerns in an effort to ward off a demand for a recorded vote, which could jeopardize the legislation. (Read rest of article)

B4B NOTE: Although still imperfect...for those who say that The President hasn't done anything for Black people...good to see a law which specifically targeted the Black community for 20 years finally being addressed in a more equitable direction. Bet the penal system is sad about this one.