White pow(d)er

Reason Magazine - Mind the Gap

Why is there such a wide disparity in sentencing for cocaine possession in the United States? You can get slapped with a mandatory 5 year jail term for possessing just 5 grams (one fifth of an ounce) of crack. To get the same sentence for possession of cocaine powder you'd need to be caught with half a kilo on you. For mandatory 10 year sentences the amounts are, half a kilo of crack or 5 kilos of powder.

Overall, sentences for offenses involving crack are three to six times longer than sentences for offenses involving the same amount of cocaine powder. This injustice has fallen disproportionately on blacks, who account for more than four-fifths of federal crack offenders but only a quarter or so of cocaine powder offenders.

The sentencing commission, having concluded that the 100-to-1 gap between crack and cocaine powder has no scientific basis, has been urging Congress to address the disparity since 1995. It also has tried to shrink the gap on its own, only to be overruled by Congress.