Shorter Sentences for Crack Cocaine

A couple of years ago, we wrote a column about crack cocaine, which ended with a discussion of the federal sentencing guidelines for crack vs. powder cocaine:

This disparity has often been called racist since it disproportionately imprisons blacks. In fact, the law probably made sense at the time, when a gram of crack did have far more devastating social costs than a gram of powder cocaine. But it doesn’t anymore. Len Bias [whose death inspired the new crack guidelines] would now be 40 years old, and he would have long outlived his usefulness to the Boston Celtics. It may be time to acknowledge that the law inspired by his death has done the same.

I am sure that we had absolutely nothing to do with it, but it was announced on Thursday that federal sentencing guidelines for crack have in fact been reduced, albeit slightly:

The new U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines for those possessing 5 grams or more of crack cocaine are prison terms of 51 months to 63 months, down from the old range of 63 months to 78 months. The new range for offenders possessing at least 50 grams is 97 months to 121 months in prison, down from 121 months to 151 months. Those ranges apply for first-time crack-cocaine convictions.

It’s possible that a more drastic change is on the way:

The sentencing commission is urging Congress to repeal the mandatory prison term for simple possession and increase the amount of crack cocaine required to trigger five-year and 10-year mandatory minimum prison terms as a way to focus on major drug traffickers.

I wonder if any lawmakers read our recent quorum on marijuana. And I wonder if someday we’ll be blogging about the changes in those laws too.


Harlan

Good. Reduce prison terms, and use the money saved to increase the number of cops on the street, and the number of arrests for sale of narcotics. The deterrent effect of a 5-year sentence is minimal if you know there's little chance you're going to get caught. Basic utility theory.

Alec

Wait...I'm confused. I thought Len Bias' death was caused by powder cocaine. Why would his death have inspired the crack guidelines?

exprop

Stephen
Have you ever done a full blown discussion of the economics of decriminalizing drug use?

Chuck

Alec:

You are correct that Len Bias died from using powder cocaine, but the assumption at the time was that he used crack cocaine. There is no question but that this error in fact helped fuel the original disparity between powder and crack cocaine.

Lauren

It's good that they are going to focus more on major drug traffickers, but how to do they plan to do that?

Kurt

Chuck/Alec:

It doesn't work to revise history using today's drug chemistry. In the time Len went down, powder was the most available means of creating "freebase" -- the antecedent to crack. For years, if you wanted crack in any quantity you had to make your own from powder. These days, no one would make freebase - it's dangerous - they'd just pick up crack.

EK

"You are correct that Len Bias died from using powder cocaine, but the assumption at the time was that he used crack cocaine."

Well he was black so he obviously used crack cocaine.

(sarcasm)

JayAre

The post concerning freebase is a valid observation. The Len Bias tragedy was a high profile wakeup call that reached out to diverse cultures.It was leveraged accordingly for sure. But that's not a bad thing because too many Americans don't pay much heed to an increase in the rate of lethal OD's among poor folks. If it was erroneous to assume Len used Crack rather than powder(freebased or not),that's an interesting bit of esoterica but of little meaning in evolution of the law ...because people were, in fact, showing up dead from Crack all over the Country. Legal and medical authorities knew this and were freaking well before the LB incident I basically abhor the whole "War on Drugs" debacle but find no fault in the assumption that Crack is way more evil than powder at street level. A sentence differential was logical for those "authorities" already working scared and in punitive mode. But they unfortunately started down that path with a bent for draconian sentences already in place and the untidy sociological results destined to unfold later were only exacerbated by the Crack vs powder "differentials".

Read more...

Ella

I have never heard of this word before, so I am unable to discuss on this topic. Sorry Please.

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Ella

Crack Cocaine

jimbob

Some wild guesses:

Both have commonly used names which are synonymous with 'two fathoms'. Is she called 'the twelve foot grandmother' or something?

Was she trained as a boat's pilot?

Did she write a book about a boy called Tom Sawyer?
Or an autobiography called 'life on the mississipi'?

Corey

They had a granddaughter who married an economist.

Dustin

Since I'm unable to make one of those three circle Venn diagrams that are on this blog, you will have to use your imagination.

Circle 1: Wrote in a pen name
Circle 2: Vegetarian
Circle 3: Support Labor Unions
Center Intersection: Jeannette's grandmother and Mark Twain

Otto

They both arrived and departed with Halley's comet?

Beerzie

They both smoke(d) cigars.

Frank

Mustaches?

mike r

Got it. Both can pilot riverboats.

mgroves

They've both encountered Whoopi Goldberg in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Josh

She was born the day he died?

Ray

Are they both buried in Elmira, NY?

Eric

They were both born in Florida, MO