In the 1980s, the U.S. government ramped up its drug war campaign. Anti-drug
programs such as Just Say No and DARE were established with the hopes
of educating America's youth about the dangers associated with illegal
drug use. Americans were bombarded with images and stories about the crack
cocaine epidemic that was plaguing urban, and largely African American,
communities. In response, the Regan administration took steps to pass
the Anti-Drug Use Act of 1986 which imposed mandatory drug sentencing
guidelines for individuals charged with possessing and distributing cocaine.
The sentencing guidelines, however, varied greatly depending on whether
an individual was found to possess or distribute the powder or rock form
of the drug. For example, "it took a tenth of the amount of crack
cocaine by weight to trigger the same five- or 10-year mandatory minimum
sentence as powder cocaine.”
As the drug war was waged, use of the more expensive powder cocaine was
rampant on Wall Street and among affluent white Americans. Following the
passage of the Anti-Drug Use Act, prison populations grew exponentially.
While politicians and others attempted to defend the powder and rock cocaine
sentencing disparities, African Americans soon made up approximately 50
percent of the U.S. prison population.
As a result of this and other unfair and punitive mandatory drug sentencing
guidelines, U.S. prisons became seriously overcrowded. In 2006, problems
with prison overcrowding led to California Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. declaring
a state of emergency. In 2010, Congress took steps to rectify past mandatory
sentencing errors with the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. However,
states were not required to adopt or follow new federal sentencing guidelines
and California has twice rejected the adoption of similar measures.
A vote is expected this week by members of California's Assembly on
SB 1010 which would effectively eliminate the cocaine sentencing disparities
that still exist and unfairly punishes many in the state.
Penalties and punishments associated with a drug conviction can adversely
impact an individual’s life in many ways. California residents convicted of
drug crimes face fines, felony charges and lengthy prison sentences. For these reasons,
individuals arrested on drug charges would be wise to contact a criminal
Source: Los Angeles Times, "
Editorial California should catch up with the feds on cocaine prison sentencing," Aug. 11, 2014