Sentencing Panel Again Takes Up Cocaine Law Disparity


Federal trial judge Reggie Walton, who served as a top drug policy adviser to the first President Bush and advocated harsher penalties for crack cocaine crimes, now says the policy had gone too far and was undermining faith in the judicial system, reports the Associated Press. Walton told the U.S. Sentencing Commission yesterday that federal laws requiring dramatically longer sentences for crack cocaine than for cocaine powder were “unconscionable.” He said the laws contribute to the perception in minority communities that courts are unfair.

The law includes a 100-to-1 disparity: Trafficking in 5 grams of cocaine carries a mandatory five-year prison sentence; it takes 500 grams of cocaine powder to warrant the same sentence. Critics say crack is more of an inner-city drug while cocaine powder is used more often in the suburbs. The Sentencing Commission, which has recommended three times that Congress narrow the sentencing gap, is again reviewing the disparity. The Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, said it welcomed a discussion about the sentencing laws but opposed lowering the penalties for crack. The Justice Department says crack is more addictive and easier to sell in small doses, leading to increased violence and a greater health impact.


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