Disparity Decreased Between Crack and Powder Cocaine Penalties

Atlanta criminal defense attorneys have praised legislation that President Obama signed into law Tuesday. The new law reduces the sentencing disparity between criminal defendants caught with crack and those caught with powder cocaine.

For the past 20 years, America’s minority populations where crack is most popular have been routinely subject to unfairly long prison sentences based on the myth that crack is somehow a worse drug than powder cocaine.

The penalties began to vary for crack and powder cocaine in 1986, and led to incredible differences in federal criminal sentences. For instance:

Possession of five grams of crack could lead to forty years in prison. To receive a similar sentence for powder cocaine, a defendant would need to possess 1,000 grams (1 kilogram / 2.2 lbs.) of powder cocaine.

Possession of fifty grams of crack would likely result in a life sentence. But it would take five kilograms of powder cocaine to receive the same sentence. The disparity has not been completely eliminated, but it has been reduced. Rather than a 100-to-1 disparity, the ratio is now 18-to-1.

The new sentencing guidelines will not affect state law, at least not directly. States like Georgia with disparities in sentencing may follow the federal government’s lead.

This is not to say the disparity hasn’t been addressed off the books on a case-by-case basis. Many judges have already recognized this injustice and have been deviating from the guidelines. The law is codifying what some judges are already doing, bringing uniformity to the justice system, and increasing fairness to those charged with drug possession.