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It's time for California to pass new drug sentencing laws

On behalf of Kenneth Krebs of Law Offices of Karlstrom & Krebs posted in Drug Charges on Friday, August 15, 2014.

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 defense attorney.

Source: Los Angeles Times, " Editorial California should catch up with the feds on cocaine prison sentencing," Aug. 11, 2014