There is good news for people facing federal charges for distributing crack cocaine. According to Attorney General Merrick Garland, federal prosecutors will no longer seek longer sentences for crack offenders than they do for powder cocaine defendants.
Since the 1980s, federal courts have been sentencing crack offenders much more harshly than powder cocaine offenders convicted of possessing similar doses of the drug. Initially, the law called for crack offenders to be sentenced 100 times more harshly than similar powder cocaine offenders.
Since Black people tend to use crack cocaine at higher rates than white people, this sentencing disparity fell especially hard on the Black community.
Later, the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced that 100-to-1 sentencing disparity to only 18-to-1. That still meant crack offenders – usually Black people – were punished mush more harshly than powder offenders. Moreover, that law did nothing to address the problem retroactively. It wasn’t until the 2018 First Step Act was passed that existing crack offenders got any relief.
Today, we remain at an 18-to-1 disparity. It’s racist and unjust. Nevertheless, possessing 28 grams of crack cocaine comes with a mandatory minimum five-year sentence in prison. You would have to have 500 grams of powder cocaine to get the same sentence.
Merrick Garland instructs prosecutors to stop relying on this unjust law
Attorney General Garland announced recently that federal prosecutors will no longer seek harsher sentences for crack offenders even though the law allows them to do just that. As long as Garland’s memo remains in effect, federal prosecutors are supposed to ask for the same sentence for the same dose amount.
Furthermore, Garland has instructed federal prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum sentences only in cases where violence was used or where defendants have significant ties to a major drug trafficking organizations.
Congress has had the sentencing disparity before it recently, but it has failed to act. We need to demand more actions like Garland’s which reduce the use of the disparate sentencing.
“The crack/powder disparity in sentencing has no basis in science, furthers no law enforcement purposes, and drives unwarranted racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Justice.