Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer continued to stand in support today of Congress’s efforts to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.
The House Judiciary crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee is considering a series of bills that will revise 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.
Breuer said at the subcommittee hearing that the current sentencing policies –which disfavor blacks because crack is generally sold in poor urban communities – are “hard to justify.”
“The Obama administration firmly believes that our criminal and sentencing laws must be tough, predictable, fair, and not result in unwarranted racial and ethnic disparities,” Breuer said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said simply scrapping the ratio would not be the answer to the disparity.
“As Congress considers revising the sentencing disparity, we should not discount the severity of crack addiction or ignore the differences between crack and powder cocaine trafficking,” Smith said in a statement prepared for the subcommittee. “Nor should we presume that the only solution to the disparity is to lower the crack penalties. Cocaine is still one of the most heavily trafficked and dangerous drugs in America.”
Breuer did not discount the severity of crack addiction or trafficking. He said in his statement that cocaine is “a serious risk to the health and safety of Americans,” but he would not take a position on mandatory minimum penalties for cocaine offenses, when asked by the subcommittee chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)
“Ultimately, we all share the goals of ensuring that the public is kept safe, reducing crime and substance abuse, and minimizing the wide-reaching, negative effects of illegal drugs,” Breuer said.