Yesterday, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted 16-9 in favor of a bill that would eliminate the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. The disparity in mandatory sentences has resulted in a disproportionate number of African-Americans being sentenced to lengthy prison stays for crack offenses, despite most cocaine users being white, without the drug’s availability being significantly reduced.
Under current law, five grams of crack cocaine and 500 grams of powder cocaine trigger the same five-year sentence. Fifty grams of crack cocaine and five kilograms of powder cocaine trigger the same 10-year sentence. If H.R. 3245 becomes law, crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimums will be equal: 500 grams will require five years and 5 kilos (or 5,000 grams) will require 10 years, no matter what form of cocaine is involved.
On November 21, 2008, Students for Sensible Drug Policy sent more than 200 students to Capitol Hill to lobby their representatives to support equalizing the disparity – proof young people can make a difference!
Hamedah Hasan is an example of someone who has spent the past 16 years in prison due to mandatory-minimum sentencing. She was scheduled to be released last month until her case judge “changed her mind.”