In unusually quick action, the U.S. Senate passed a bill to change the punishment for possession of crack cocaine just a week after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it. For 24 years, the law has punished crack users 100 times more heavily than powder cocaine users, the new Senate bill brings the 100-to-1 ratio down to 18-to-1. Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums says it was the the first time since the Nixon administration that the Senate voted to repeal a mandatory minimum sentence.
Cynthia Orr, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers, told National Public Radio how the 100-to-1 ratio plays out in real life: “The penalty for possession of a saccharin package worth of crack cocaine is a five-year mandatory minimum. And it goes up from there astronomically to where you’re at a life sentence before you can bat an eye with crack cocaine. Whereas you have to have 5 kilos of powder cocaine, so it’s literally 100 times more severe penalty for the same amount of drug.” A House committee has approved a bill that treats crack and powder identically. The full House could adopt the Senate’s 18-to-1 sentencing ratio or push for a 1-to-1 ratio.