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A Senate Bill to End Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

A group of 10 Democratic senators today reintroduced legislation designed to end the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine — a long-standing push that never quite seems to get enacted.

In a statement, the lawmakers cite the reasoning behind the proposal.

Under current law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine (roughly the weight of two sugar cubes) triggers a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while trafficking 500 grams (approximately one pound) of powder cocaine triggers the same sentence. The so-called 100:1 sentencing disparity has been in place since 1986. The Fair Sentencing Act would eliminate the disparity, treating crack and powder cocaine equally.

Sen. Richard Durbin (Ill.), the upper chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said passage of the bill is long overdue.

The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has contributed to the imprisonment of African Americans at six times the rate of whites and to the United States’ position as the world’s leader in incarcerations. Congress has talked about addressing this injustice for long enough; it’s time for us to act.

Other sponsors of the bill include Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), John Kerry (Mass.), Al Franken (Minn.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Ben Cardin (Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

In July, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.).

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