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Congress on Crack

August 1st, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I spent so much time working on yesterday’s epic blog entry that I need to keep this one short and sweet. It’s not a particularly important issue (unless you’re a crack-smoker) but it says an awful lot about the way in which the spineless democrats are governing.

You may have heard of the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Crack is the same substance as cocaine, only made to be smoked rather than snorted. For whatever reason, it tends to be the drug of choice for poverty-stricken minorities living in the inner-city. Powder cocaine is more often used by white kids out in the suburbs.

During the 1980s people were positively hysterical about drugs (thank you Nancy Reagan), and politicians needed to show how tough they were on this issue. So they rushed to pass legislation imposing a strict mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for possession of just five grams of crack cocaine (not very much). Apparently they forgot about powder cocaine, which you’d need to possess five hundred grams of (a whole heck of a lot) in order to trigger the five-year sentence.

And so we’ve had a 100:1 sentencing disparity since then, resulting in a disproportionate number of minorities going to prison rather than whites simply because for them crack is easier to come by. Chris Weigant writes:

It’s as if we decided to make coffee illegal, and instituted mandatory minimums for possessing five cups of coffee — while at the same time applying the same penalty only if you were caught with 500 cups of espresso. Or made water illegal, but set a much higher bar for possessing 500 ice cubes. Either way, it is the same substance. The only thing which differs is the penalty for the “lower class” version of the substance.

One of Obama’s many campaign promises was to eliminate this disparity, and in typical Obama-fashion this issue was addressed this past week and the result was—you guessed it—a compromise. They eliminated the mandatory minimum for first-time possession of crack cocaine, and upped the amount you need to possess to trigger the five-year sentence from 5 grams to 28 grams. The sentencing disparity is no longer 100 to 1—now it’s 18 to 1.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m amazed they did anything at all. Politicians are so petrified of being labeled “soft on drugs” (because they’re all still trapped in 1987) that it’s a wonder they even addressed this issue at all. But seriously—why not go all the way? The problem wasn’t that the disparity was too great but that there was any disparity at all.

This is the kind of weak governance that exemplifies the nature of the Democratic-controlled congress of these last two years. Make progressive changes but only a little, lest the republicans attack you for being too radically liberal. Never mind the fact that they’re already accusing you of being radically liberal and they’d be doing that no matter what—just pretend that the other side is rational.

Just imagine that their negative campaign ads will go like this: “Congressman Soandso is a soft-on-crime liberal. He voted to reduce the penalty for possession of crack cocaine. Although to be fair, he didn’t reduce it as much as he could have, so he deserves a little credit.”

These people are idiots if they think anyone at all is going to give them any credit whatsoever for not going all the way on this. It would be as though a century ago lawmakers said, “We strongly believe that women have the right to vote, but just to show how reasonable we are we’ll only make their vote count half.”

When are they going to realize how pathetic they look?

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