By:  LINDSEY O'NEILL, ESQ.

New legislation has been introduced to Congress to equalize the sentencing for crack and cocaine drug offenses.  Currently, there is a 100-1 sentencing disparitybetween convictions for offenses involing "crack" or "powder cocaine."   The legisitation, called the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, would equalize the sentencing guidelines for these two drug offenses. 

It started with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which at the time was designed to aggressively target the increase in crack cocaine crime.  Under the law, those convicted of crimes involving “crack” cocaine were punished on a 100-to-1 ratio compared to those whose crimes involve cocaine in powder form.  Thus, a person who dealt five grams of crack cocaine (the weight of two pennies) could face 5 years in prison.... but person had to deal 500 grams of powder cocaine for a similar sentence.   Worse, as the years went on, some reports indicated that first-time offenders caught selling five grams of powder cocaine typically only received 6 months in prison, and would often be eligible for probation, while first-time offender selling the same amount of crack faced the mandatory five year prison sentence.  Another disparity was that the majority of dealers convicted for crack cocaine offenses were Black, while most convicted for powder cocaine offenses were White.  

Given the unfairness of the drug policies, several organizations advocated for a change in the "100:1" crack-cocaine sentencing laws and it was one ofPresident Obama's campaign pledges to equalize the punishment for the offenses.  Under the new laws, a person would have to be caught with 500 grams of crack cocaine to go to prison - same as for powder cocaine.  

There are many policy reasons behind the push for the new law - primarily to address the racial disparities mentioned, but also to refocus law enforcement efforts on drug king-pins rather than street-level dealers.