In August 2010 President Barack Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), historic legislation that reduced the quantity-based sentencing differential between federal crack and powder cocaine convictions that resulted in significant racial disparities and excessive penalties.
The bipartisan measure addressed the 100-to-1 disparity that punished defendants with five grams of crack cocaine (also known as cocaine base) with the same five-year mandatory minimum penalty imposed on powder cocaine defendants with 100 times that amount. Lawmakers rushed to establish the disparity and stiff sentences for crack cocaine in 1986 when the growing hysteria around the drug’s emergence in urban communities climaxed because of the death of a college basketball star whose overdose, officials believed, was caused by crack cocaine.
The policy advances at the federal level, which reduced the disparity to 18-to-1, provide an opening for reevaluating similar state policies enacted during the height of the crack cocaine “epidemic,” and followed the lead of Congress. While each state maintains its own laws governing offenses involving crack cocaine, and none maintain the extreme 100-to-1 differential between crack and powder cocaine, the harsh penalties for low-level crack cocaine offenses are considerable and produce significant consequences. Today, 13 states maintain sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
This report addresses disparities in cocaine sentencing in 13 states and documents efforts at the federal and state level to correct these injustices.
To read the report, download the PDF below.