At the risk of incurring the AP’s wrath by even discussing this story, it seems that the Obama administration is asking Congress to do what the United States Sentencing Commission has been asking for well on a decade now: reduce the glaring disparity between sentences for powder cocaine and cocaine base (commonly referred to as “crack”). (AP via Yahoo! I would have linked to a different story, but it appears no one else is writing about it without the AP’s byline.)
Currently, 21 U.S.C. § 841 penalizes possession (with intent to distribute) of 50 grams of cocaine base the same as 5 kilograms of cocaine powder: 10 years imprisonment to life. It takes roughly 10 pounds of cocaine powder to get to that threshold, but it only takes just 50 paperclips’ worth of crack. You can see, then, why the Sentencing Commission has been sending reports to Congress stating that there’s really no justification for the disparity.
Indeed, the Commission recently acted on its own to change the Guidelines’ punishment rubric to do as much as it could within the existing laws to reduce the disparity. As it did so, though, it sent a report to Congress stating that the 100-to-1 penalty disparity has come under “almost universal criticism” and that Congress should do something about it. As that was 2007, though, Congress did nothing.
The 2007 report follows a report sent in 2002, which followed a report sent in 1997, which followed a report in 1995. So forgive me if I don’t hold my breath waiting for Congress to do something that actually might be, I don’t know … fair.