Richmond, VA – Tomorrow, the American Civil Liberties Union will be blanketing the halls of Congress with the purpose of equalizing the crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentencing statutes. In dozens of private meetings, activists from across the country will urge Congress to eliminate the discriminatory disparity between crack and powder sentencing guidelines under federal law and support H.R. 265, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009.
In the 22 years since excessive mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine were enacted as part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, many misconceptions about the drug’s instant, violent, addictive powers and a so-called epidemic of “crack babies” have been refuted, leaving no scientific or pharmacological basis for justifying the 100-to-1 disparity. Under current law, a person convicted of distributing or possessing five grams of crack cocaine and a person with 500 grams of powder cocaine serve the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence.
“For some time now, we have known that crack cocaine is no more harmful than powder cocaine,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Punishing crack cocaine and powder cocaine differently is like treating a DUI for champagne and beer differently. It does not make sense. If the effect on the user is the same regardless of form, federal law should not make a distinction between sentences for the sale and possession of the two drugs. Congress must act to end this 20-year injustice.”
Fortunately, Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) has sponsored legislation that would change the federal sentencing guidelines so that crack and powder cocaine are treated the same. In early April, Representative Jackson-Lee introduced a bill, known as H.R. 265, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009.
“Congress alone has the authority to stop long mandatory minimum sentences that many people, overwhelmingly poor and African American, are serving for crack cocaine offenses,” added Willis. “These disproportionate, excessive prison stays for crack offenses erode communities’ faith in the fairness of the system.”

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, (804) 644-8022

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