Panel Advances Bill For Equality in Cocaine Sentencing
By Andrew Ramonas | July 29, 2022 3:09 pm

The House Judiciary Committee endorsed legislation today that would establish the same sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine and crack offenses.

The Democrat-backed “Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009” was reported out of committee by a 16-9 vote along party lines. The legislation would eliminate the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine penalties put in place by Congress in the 1980s. The decades old law gives the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of five grams of crack cocaine as it does for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine. The legislation supported by the panel today also would abolish mandatory minimum sentences for crack and remove distinctions between powder cocaine and crack offenses.

“This distinction is no longer considered rational,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chair of the House Judiciary crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee, said at the meeting today.

Panel Republicans tried to kept mandatory penalties for powder cocaine and crack offenses in place, but were unsuccessful. The committee tabled an amendment offered by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that would have maintained a mandatory minimum prison sentence for powder cocaine and crack offenses.

“The bill sends the wrong message to drug dealers and those who traffic in ravaging human lives,” said House Judiciary Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) at the meeting. “It sends the message that Congress does not take drug crimes seriously.”

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has stood in support  of Congress’s efforts to eliminate the differences between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. He said at a hearing in May that the current sentencing policies – which disfavor blacks because crack is generally sold in poor urban communities – are “hard to justify.”

This post has been corrected from an earlier version.

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