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House Passes Bill to Reduce Drug Crime Sentencing Disparities

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill to reduce disparities in penalties for possession of crack versus powder cocaine. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been working on the passage of such a measure for a decade.

The African-American lawmakers leading the effort sought to address and change the previous 25-year-old mandatory minimum sentencing law that handed out much harsher penalties for drug crimes involving possession of crack cocaine than drug crimes involving possession of powder cocaine. Crack cocaine is generally used more commonly by blacks and powder cocaine is more commonly used by whites.

According to CNN, Congressman John Conyers, D-Michigan, said that the mandatory sentencing law for crack "pushed the number of drug offenders in federal prisons from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to nearly 100,000 in 2009." Conyers said that the Fair Sentencing Act would reduce the disparity between crack and cocaine sentences "from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1." 

The current law set a mandatory sentence of five-years in prison for possession of five grams of crack cocaine. The new law will drop the mandatory sentence for first time offenders. For those convicted of a repeat crack cocaine offense, the mandatory sentence will be dropped for all but those who possess 28 grams or more of crack cocaine.

The bill was passed by the Senate in March and passed the House on a voice vote with bipartisan support. President Obama is now set to sign the bill, which should happen within a month.



House passes bill to reduce disparity in cocaine penalties (CNN)

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