It’s Insane: The Social Disparities Between Crack and Cocaine
The punishment difference between crack-cocaine and powder-cocaine exposes an unjust feature in the American Justice system, a system that was built to be the epitome of justice.
Ever wonder what the difference is between crack-cocaine and powder-cocaine? Aside from being cheaper, more potent, and predominantly used by lower-class minorities, crack will land you a prison sentence that is 100 times greater in comparison to cocaine. That’s right, in the US, a person found holding 500 grams of powder cocaine – which is A LOT of cocaine – would face a five-year mandatory minimum sentence; crack offenders would have to be in possession of a mere 5 grams to face the same obligatory sentence.
Why is that?
Good question! Two decades ago, US President Ronald Regan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, making penalties for possession of crack-cocaine offenses 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine. This punitive response to crack stemmed from the higher levels of crime commonly associated with its users, a conclusion that was only reiterated in the 1994 study of 200 crack addicts, which found that “daily use of crack correlated more with illicit criminal activities” than the non-user demographic. Further studies have found crack-cocaine to be more powerful, addictive, and physically harmful in comparison to powder cocaine, all of which has come to support the drastic differences in punishment.
So what’s the problem?
In spite of arguments upholding sentencing differences between crack and powder-cocaine, proponents against such disparities need only to point at the law’s function, that is, the social discrimination intrinsic within its application. In nature of being more pure, powder cocaine is predominantly used by affluent, upper-class whites and carries a hefty price tag per gram in comparison to crack, which is less refined and less expensive to produce and thus costs less to purchase, which sadly appeals to lower-class addicts. This being said, any disparities between the two will inherently affect two separate classes of addicts – one rich and one poor.
Who else is affected?
Well, lets look at the data. As stated in the US Federal Court of Appeals case, United States v. Blewett, of the 30,000 federal prisoners serving crack-cocaine sentences in 2011, more than 80 percent were black – which is crazy! This percentage was so appalling that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, has regarded the crack-cocaine disparity as “one of the most notorious symbols of racial discrimination in our modern criminal justice system”. In response to the apparent social and racial discrimination, the Fair Sentencing Act was drafted in 2010 – more than 2 decades after the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 76’ – to decrease the respective sentencing inequalities from 100:1 to 18:1; this is to say that 18 grams of powder cocaine will now render the same punishment as 1 gram of crack cocaine.
So, now it’s fair!
Not exactly. Many argue that the current 18:1 ratio is an outdated compromise that still reflects the vast inequalities found within the United States’ Justice System. According to those who follow this line of argumentation, the only fair ratio is 1:1 and the fight will continue until such a ratio is reached; of course, there are steps being taken in this direction. For example, in 2011 the US Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively apply the Fair Sentencing Act-guidelines to individuals sentenced before the law was enacted, a decision that may not affect the criticized 18:1 ratio, but certainly brings justice to those who received distasteful prison sentences in the past. Ultimately, further action to decrease the 18:1 ratio is still needed, action that is fostered through the out-cries of victims and proponents against such punitive agendas. I suppose it is for this reason I write today, to bring justice to those affected by injustice.