Office of National Drug Control Policy

ONDCP Excel Forty-Ninth Row

Action Item Number: 
Action Item Name: 
Foster Equitable Drug Sentencing [COMPLETE]
Action Item Description: 

In the 1980s, as crack-cocaine markets were causing considerable damage to communities throughout the United States, Congress passed legislation mandating minimum sentences of 5 years in prison for persons trafficking in 5 grams of crack-cocaine or 500 grams of powder cocaine.

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  Subsequently, the law was changed so that a simple possession of 5 grams of crack-cocaine conviction triggered a mandatory 5-year sentence, making it the only Federal, first-time, drug possession charge with a mandatory minimum sentence attached to it.  This difference in penalty cannot be justified based on pharmacological differences between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, because they are quite similar. Further, because 85 percent of Federal crack cocaine defendants are African-American, the mandatory minimum disparity has had a disproportionate racial impact and undermines trust in the criminal justice system. The Administration is actively working with Congress to promote equity in penalties for cocaine-related crimes while retaining the tools needed by law enforcement to protect our communities from the violence associated with drug trafficking.

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