NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Disparate Sentencing for Powder, Crack Cocaine Racist, Many Contend


June 1993

In a USA Today "Cover Story," journalist Dennis Cauchon, who has displayed extraordinary initiative and expertise in his reporting of drug issues, highlighted the de facto racial disparity in cocaine sentencing based on stiffer penalties for crack offenders versus powder cocaine offenders (Dennis Cauchon, "Sentences For Crack Called Racist: Terms Longer For Drug Used Primarily By Young Blacks," USA Today, 5/26/93, 1A).

[A careful reading of drug-related news stories shows that Cauchon is far more meticulous in researching the pharmacological science and generally getting his facts straight than reporters for many of the major metropolitan dailies. -- R.B.K.]

In the May 26 front-page story, Cauchon interviews critics who note that the vast majority of crack offenders are black, while the vast majority of powder cocaine offenders are white. One gram of crack counts as 100 grams of powder for sentencing purposes, and, unlike powder, carries a mandatory sentence for mere possession without intent to sell. Crack cases are usually referred to federal court to insure longer sentences. In most cases, crack defendants are denied bond.

Defenders of the tougher sentencing rules argue that crack has been associated with more violence and is more profitable, and that the racial disparities are coincidental. The only major success for opponents of disparate sentencing for crack occurred in 1991 in Minnesota, when that state's Supreme Court struck down the state's crack law as racially discriminatory.