Momentum is building to ease crack cocaine sentencing guidelines, which critics say have imprisoned low-level drug dealers whose punishments were much worse than their crimes, USA Today reports. Federal prison sentences for possessing or selling crack have far exceeded those for powder cocaine for two decades. House Crime Subcommittee chairman Robert Scott (D-Va.) plans to hold hearings on crack sentences this year. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Al.), is drawing bipartisan support for his proposal to ease crack sentences. “I believe that as a matter of law enforcement and good public policy that crack cocaine sentences are too heavy and can’t be justified,” Sessions says. “People don’t want us to be soft on crime, but I think we ought to make the law more rational.”
The mandatory federal sentencing guidelines passed by Congress in 1986 require a judge to impose the same sentence for possession of 5 grams of crack as for 500 grams of powder cocaine: five years in prison. “We’re going to address all the mandatory minimums,” said Rep. Scott. “The crack cocaine is probably the most egregious because of its draconian number of years for relatively small amounts.” Opposition to weaker sentences has come from police, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Justice Department. “We believe the current federal sentencing policy and guidelines for crack cocaine offenses are reasonable,” Justice spokesman Dean Boyd says. Scientists say there is no pharmaceutical justification for having different sentencing rules for crack and powder cocaine. “Once the cocaine is in your bloodstream, there’s absolutely no difference between powder cocaine and crack cocaine,” says Bruce Goldberger of the University of Florida College of Medicine.