President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which aims to reduce the disparity in sentencing between crimes involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine. This will address the larger issue of racial disparities in sentencing for drug crimes. The act, which passed the Senate at the end of March with unanimous consent, also passed the House last week by a simple voice vote after only 40 minutes of debate.
Under the current penalty structure, established during the so-called “crack epidemic” of the late 1980s, possession of crack can carry the same sentence as the possession of a quantity of cocaine that is 100 times larger. The Fair Sentencing Act amends existing laws by increasing the amounts of crack from 5 grams to 28 grams for 5-year minimum sentences and from 50 grams to 280 grams for 10-year minimum sentences. The act will also eliminate the 5-year mandatory minimum prison term for first-time simple possession of crack. The new act includes a provision to account for such aggravated cases, allowing penalties to be increased for the use of violence during a drug trafficking offense.