Friday, April 10, 2020
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House Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee Unanimously Approves "Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009"
On July 22, 2009 Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) released a victorious statement ("Subcommittee Votes to Equalize Cocaine Punishments"), announcing that "the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security unanimously passed H.R. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009." If the remainder of their House colleagues and counterparts in the Senate approve the bill as well, all "references to 'cocaine base'" will be "remove[d] from the U.S. Code, effectively treating all cocaine, including crack, the same for sentencing purposes." The bill would - rather than raising penalties for powder cocaine to the same level as those currently in place for crack cocaine or simply ratcheting down the disparity's ratio, as some earlier proposals suggested - entirely equalize crack and powder cocaine sentencing statutes. In short, the Act seeks to all-out "eliminate the 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine" that has produced massive racial disparities in sentencing and incarceration rates and undermined faith in the criminal justice system since its enactment in 1986. The bill was originally sponsored by Rep. Robert Scott of Virginia and now boasts 22 co-sponsors - including the sponsors and co-sponsors of other recently proposed legislative measures addressing the issue.
Drug policy and sentencing reform advocates, along with civil rights groups, lauded the decision. Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, Marc Mauer, praised Rep. Scott's courage and "applaud[ed his] leadership" simply for introducing the bill in a July 21 letter to the lawmaker. David Borden, Executive Director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network (or StoptheDrugWar.org), expressed excitement in a post for the Drug War Chronicle's blog, and Emily Zia of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office characterized the vote as a "historic moment" ("Finally Cracking the Disparity: It's About Time!"). FAMM President Julie Stewart stated that "While the vote may be one small step for this bill, it is one giant step for sentencing sanity." She added, "If Congress eliminates the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, it would not only restore faith in the justice system among the communities most affected by the law, it would reduce prison overcrowding and free up funding for more effective rehabilitation efforts." Stewart also made it clear that "FAMM strongly urges Congress to make the changes retroactive so that people currently serving unjust sentences for crack cocaine can benefit and taxpayers will see even greater savings."