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Congress is closer than ever to eliminating a 100-to-1 disparity in federal cocaine sentencing that affects African Americans at much higher rates than whites.

In current federal drug sentencing law, someone who sells crack cocaine faces the same sentence as someone who sells 100 times as much powder cocaine. For example, someone who sells 5 grams of crack cocaine would receive the same 5-year mandatory minimum sentence as a person who sells 500 grams of powder cocaine.

This disparity can only be eliminated by Congress. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D. Texas., Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., and Rep. Charles Rangel, D. N.Y., have recently introduced bills in the House of Representatives that will eliminate the 100-to-1 disparity by making the penalties for selling crack and powder cocaine the same.

The federal drug sentencing guidelines were enacted by Congress in 1986 in response to myths that crack cocaine was more addictive than powder cocaine and made users more violent. Since then, scientists have proven that crack and powder cocaine are pharmacologically identical and that the common myths surrounding crack cocaine are false.

This disparity has disproportionately hurt African Americans. In 2008, about 32 percent of crack cocaine users were African American, but 79.8 percent of those convicted for crack cocaine-related offenses were African American, compared to 10.4 percent for Whites.

These disturbing statistics are the result of enforcement and prosecution strategies in crack cocaine cases that have a disparate affect on minorities, who are disproportionately arrested for crack cocaine offenses, disproportionately charged in federal court, and then sentenced under statutes and guidelines which are unfair.

‘Equalization of the sentencing ratio for crack and powder cocaine offenses from 100-to-1 to a ratio of 1-to-1 at the current powder cocaine level is the only fair solution. Such a change in federal law would be a significant step toward restoring balance and racial fairness to the criminal justice system. The time has come to rationalize drug sentencing laws and practices. The civil rights impact of these criminal justice reforms can no longer be ignored,’ said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of LCCR, in April 29 written testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs.

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold hearings on this issue this month.

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