This afternoon, President Obama will sign a bill into law that finally reduces the prison sentence disparities between rock cocaine and crack cocaine. The decades old disparities resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of blacks. Under the old law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine carries a mandatory minimum of five years in prison while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the mandatory minimum five year prison sentence. Studies show that crack cocaine is more likely to be found in black neighborhoods while powder cocaine is more likely to be found in white neighborhoods. Under the new law, in order to trigger the mandatory minimum five year prison sentence, the amount of crack cocaine is increased to 28 grams while the amount of powder cocaine remains at 500 grams. The disparity has been reduced from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. The new law also eliminates mandatory prison sentences for simple possession of crack cocaine.
The battle to reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine has been a long time coming. This disparity has been the subject of great criticism by Civil Rights leaders and became a campaign issue during the last presidential election. As a candidate, President Obama expressed his desire to tackle this issue and pledged to support legislation to deal with this disparity. Today, he gets to keep a campaign promise.
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