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Post War on Drugs and Mandatory Sentencing
Created by John Eipper on 08/17/13 4:05 AM

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War on Drugs and Mandatory Sentencing (Massoud Malek, USA, 08/17/13 4:05 am)

By adding common baking soda and water to the powder cocaine and heating the mixture, you obtain crack cocaine in the form of rock. Crack cocaine when smoked allows for quick absorption into the blood stream, and reaches the brain in 8 seconds. There is no pharmacological difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. The fact that crack has less cocaine makes it much cheaper than the powder cocaine; therefore, it's the drug choice of poor people. On the other hand, cocaine has a history of being glamorized and is a drug choice of educated professionals.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was the first major law of the War on Drugs passed by the US Congress. They increased penalties for crack cocaine possession and usage. It mandated a mandatory minimum sentence of five years (ten years) without parole for possession of five grams (ten grams) of crack; to receive the same sentence with powder cocaine one had to have 500 grams (one kilo).


In 1994, the US Sentencing Commission found that the sentencing disparity was unjustified, due to the small differences between the two forms of cocaine, and advised Congress to equalize the quantity ratio that would trigger mandatory sentences. Congress rejected the Commission's recommendations for the first time in the Commission's history. After several recommendations and proposals, finally, the sentencing disparity was reduced from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. It was implemented retroactively, on November 1, 2011.


80% of people arrested for crack offenses in 2002 were African-Americans. Consequently, a disproportionate number of Black crack offenders face the harsh mandatory minimums associated with crack convictions. The passage of the "Crack-Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 2007," proposed by the congressman Charles Rangel (D, NY) would have caused a large migration of day traders from the Wall Street to the inside of prison walls. Imagine a prison crowded by white-collar professionals who opt for the powder form of the same drug.

About 14 million whites and 2.6 million African-Americans report using an illicit drug. Five times as many whites are using drugs as African-Americans, yet African-Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites. African-Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months).

In 1986, the same year that the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was passed by the Congress, Senator John Kerry and Senator Christopher Dodd proposed a series of hearings at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding charges of Contra involvement in drug trafficking; the hearings were conducted by Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the Republican Chairman of the Committee. The report of the Committee, released on April 13, 1989, found that "Contra drug links included payments to drug traffickers ($806,000) by the US State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras."


On August 12, 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder proposed a reform package to fix America's increasingly overcrowded prisons, which includes doing away with mandatory minimums for certain nonviolent drug offenders. A few days before, the Supreme Court ordered California to release almost 10,000 inmates in order to relieve conditions so crowded that the courts have deemed them unconstitutional.

On August 15, 2013, three days after the Attorney General told the nation about doing away with mandatory minimums for certain nonviolent drug offenders, a black man was found guilty of possession with the intent to sell 69 grams of crack cocaine. He will spend the next 8 years in State Prison, followed by 3 years of post-release supervision.


Every year, Americans spend over $200 billion on the most harmful drug to society and the third leading cause of preventable death.

Researchers led by the neuropharmacologist David Nutt, a former chief drugs adviser to the British government, asked drug-harm experts to rank 20 drugs (legal and illegal) on a scale that takes into account the various harms caused by a drug. The highest overall harm score was 72 out 100.

Here is a partial list of those drugs: "Alcohol: 72; heroin: 55; crack: 54, cocaine: 27; tobacco: 26; and marijuana: 20."


Here is a list of annual deaths of various drugs in the US: "Tobacco: 435,000; alcohol: 85,000; prescription drugs: 32,000; all illegal drug use (excluding marijuana): 17,000; Aspirin: 7,600; and marijuana: 0."

The assertions claiming that children who have been exposed to crack cocaine before birth are permanently damaged are unsubstantiated. Numerous studies have shown that there is very little conclusive evidence to support the "crack baby" myth. National studies have blamed smoking by pregnant women for 141,000 spontaneous abortions and 4,800 prenatal deaths every year.

More than 300 economists, including three Nobel laureates, have signed a petition calling attention to the findings of a paper by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, which suggests that if the government legalized marijuana, it would save $7.7 billion annually by not having to enforce the current prohibition on the drug. The report added that legalization would raise an additional $6 billion per year if the government taxed marijuana at rates similar to alcohol and tobacco.


Contrary to powder cocaine that must be imported, one hundred percent of crack cocaine is made in America, so by passing the "Crack-Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act," we could almost bankrupt most Drug Cartels and reduce our prison population. The savings may put a dent on our national debt.

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JE comments: We haven't discussed the War on Drugs in a number of years. I'm grateful that Massoud Malek has set the ball rolling.

With last year's votes in Colorado and Washington, might the tide be turning towards the widespread legalization of marijuana?  Note that proponents of legalization invariably cite the promise of additional tax revenues.  Fewer people in jail plus fatter government coffers--is this a win-win for everyone?

One question for Massoud: if crack cocaine is manufactured from powder cocaine, how can we call crack a "made in America" product?

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  • War on Drugs and Mandatory Sentencing (Miles Seeley, USA 08/18/13 2:28 PM)
    In my opinion, mandatory drug sentencing was an unmitigated disaster that caused a lot of harm. Attorney General Holder's new policies sound like an improvement. (See Massoud Malek, 17 August.) The whole insanity about marijuana continues, however. In our clinic, alcohol was the most destructive, and it was legal. However, cocaine abusers were the most difficult to treat, and the recovery rate was low.

    I hesitate even to suggest remedies, since most have already proven not to work.

    JE comments: I am grateful to Miles Seeley for adding to this important discussion. Newish WAISers may not know that Miles ran an outpatient addiction clinic for a number of years in the 1980s. Here is an April, 2012 posting where Miles relates the experience:


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