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Senate Holding Hearings on Crack/powder Sentencing Disparity

On June 29, 1995, the House of Representatives held a hearing on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Under the federal sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum statutes, 1 gram of crack cocaine is considered equivalent to 100 grams of powder cocaine when calculating length of prison sentences. Earlier this year, the US Sentencing Commission voted 4-3 to equalize crack and powder sentences at the level of powder cocaine. The commission noted that crack and powder are pharmacologically identical; and that the sentencing guidelines already include enhancements for transactions in which violence occur.

Although more white Americans use crack cocaine than black Americans, 90 percent of crack defendants are black. The LA Times recently reported that black crack defendants in LA County are routinely tried in federal court, while the white crack defendants have all been tried in California state court, where there are much smaller penalties. There has not been one white person prosecuted for crack cocaine in federal court in Los Angeles.

The Sentencing Commission has no authority over the mandatory minimum statutes. Only legislation by Congress can eliminate or reduce the sentencing disparity. There is general agreement in the House that the current 100:1 ratio between powder and crack cocaine is wrong, but there is not agreement on what the new ratio should be. The Senate has decided to hold hearings on the issue, tentatively scheduled for late July or early August.

Please write your Representative and your two Senators in support of elimination of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. If you don't know who they are, you can find our from the Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121. Letters can be addressed to:

Please also send letters to:


Handwritten or typed letters are much more effective than form letters. However, the following letter, provided by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), is available for your reference:

{Your Name}
{Your Address}
{Your City, State and Zip Code}

{The Date}

The Honorable {your Senator}
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510


The Honorable {your Representative}
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Senator (or Representative) _____________:

        There are numerous inequities caused by current mandatory sentencing

laws that result in sentences largely out of proportion to the crimes.

One of the most disproportionate mandatory sentences is for crack cocaine

        Under current sentencing statutes, possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine

requires a prison sentence of 5 years, while it takes 500 grams of powder

cocaine to receive the same 5 year prison sentence. This 100:1 ratio between

crack and powder cocaine has caused concern among judges, prosecutors,

defendants, and many members of Congress.
        Scientists agree that there is no difference between powder and crack

cocaine that would merit a 100:1 differential between the sentences. In

fact, without powder cocaine it would be impossible to make crack cocaine,

which is a diluted form of powder cocaine.
        Additionally, the 100:1 sentencing ratio between the two drugs has created

a racial disparity that is intolerable in today's society. According to

testimony given June 29, 195 to the House Subcommittee on Crime, 90 percent

of crack cocaine defendants are black, even though studies show that as

a percentage of total consumption, white Americans use more crack than

do black Americans. As a result, black crack offenders serve longer average

prison sentences than do white powder cocaine offenders.
        Some people argues that because there is more violence associated with

the crack cocaine trade than the powder cocaine trade, crack should be

sentences more severely. This argument makes no sense. Should a driver

drunk on beer receive a different punishment than a driver drunk on martinis?

Or course not. If there is violence involved in individual crimes, then

the sentence will be increased to reflect the violence. But the mere possibility

that the offense could be violent should not be built into the sentence

from the start.
        I urge you to look long and hard at the inequities of all statutory

mandatory minimum sentences and in particular those caused by the current

crack cocaine sentences. Please use your position to correct the crack

cocaine/powder cocaine disparity by calling Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL)

and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to urge them to change the law so that crack

and powder cocaine are treated as the same drug for sentencing purposes.
                                        Respectfully, your constituent,
                                        {Your Name} 

                                        {Your Signature} 

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