Now just 18 times more guilty E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

For years drug law reformers have been trying to eliminate the disparity in sentences handed down to defendants based on what form of cocaine they were in possession of or distributing. Since 1986, if you were busted for crack, you got a prison sentence 100 times tougher than the guy with the higher-quality powdered version of the same drug. Now that crack isn't the new kid on the block in terms of dangerous drugs, politicians have decided to reduce the sentencing disparity from 100 to one down to 18 to one.

In a shocking display of bipartisan unity, Senate lawmakers reached across the aisle and brokered a landmark deal this week to reduce criminal penalties for defendants caught with crack cocaine. They made the deal in the congressional gym, where according to ousted NY State Senator Eric Massa, the people's business is even done in the showers.

Observers say that Sen. Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) ran into colleagues Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) in the Senate gym before they had started their workouts. Durbin seized the moment to advance the legislation and the deal was sealed with a handshake two hours later at a committee meeting in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

While health care, financial reform and virtually everything else on the agenda in Washington D.C. is a hostage to what seems like increasingly partisan politics, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the measure 19 to 0. The compromise would reduce the sentencing disparity to 18 to 1 for people caught with crack cocaine vs. those who carry the drug in powdered form.

The current ratio has rested since 1986 at 100 to 1, disproportionately impacting African Americans, who are convicted of crack possession at far greater numbers. The Senate bill would increase the amount of crack cocaine required to trigger a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for possession with an intent to distribute from 5 grams to 28 grams.

Possessing cocaine in rock form, in any amount, will no longer carry a mandatory minimum prison term. This is the first time that Congress has overturned a mandatory minimum sentencing law.

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