Finally, after more than twenty years of getting it wrong, Congress has moved to decrease the disparity in sentencing for those found guilty of possessing cocaine.
Congress on Wednesday changed a 25-year-old law that has subjected tens of thousands of African Americans to long prison terms for crack cocaine convictions while giving far more lenient treatment to those, mainly whites, caught with the powder form of the drug.
The House, by voice vote, approved a bill reducing the disparities between mandatory crack and powder cocaine sentences, sending the measure to President Obama for his signature. During his presidential campaign, Obama said that the wide gap in sentencing "cannot be justified and should be eliminated." The Senate passed the bill in March.
The measure changes a 1986 law, enacted at a time when crack cocaine use was rampant and considered a particularly violent drug. Under the law, a person convicted of crack cocaine possession got the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the same amount of powder cocaine. The new legislation reduces that ratio to about 18 to 1.
The bill also eliminates the five-year mandatory minimum for first-time possession of crack, the first time since the Nixon administration that Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum sentence. It does not apply retroactively.
Can you believe this bill had bipartisan support? Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Senator Jeff Session of Alabama co-sponsored the bill.