Clinton to call for eliminating distinction between crack and powder cocaine in drug sentencing

On Wednesday, Bernie Sanders called for the decriminalization of marijuana on the federal level, calling the federal government’s current classification of the drug a major driver of racial inequality. Today, Hillary Clinton will see his decriminalization by calling for an elimination of the distinction between crack and powder cocaine in drug sentencing laws as part of a broader criminal justice reform platform.

Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, screenshot via YouTube

Hillary Clinton in Cleveland, screenshot via YouTube

According to the Washington Post, “The crack and powder cocaine distinction stems from a 1986 law that declared that a person convicted of crack cocaine possession got the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the same amount of powder cocaine. Civil rights groups have long decried the law, arguing that treating crack and powder cocaine differently disproportionately and unfairly impacts African Americans since 80 percent of those convicted of crack cocaine possession are black. The Fair Sentencing Act passed in 2010 narrowed that ratio to 18:1.”

There’s no good reason for the distinction, given the fact that crack and powder cocaine are chemically identical. They’re the same drug, just prepared and consumed differently — powder cocaine is to crack as milk is to butter. The only reason to treat one differently than the other in our legal system is that consumption correlates with race and class; rich, white people use powder cocaine, while poor, non-white people use crack. And when a distinction in consumption is reflected in sentencing laws, it’s reflected in our prison population, as well.

Clinton’s proposals will also include legislation banning the use of racial profiling as a policing tactic, prohibiting law enforcement from using race as a deciding factor in decisions to stop and search someone. While in the Senate, Clinton twice co-sponsored legislation to that effect.

Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have released criminal justice reform platforms of their own already. O’Malley’s calls for the elimination of the distinction between crack and powder cocaine, along with the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons and improved data collection and reporting procedures for law enforcement. Sanders’s includes the racial profiling ban, along with abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing and civil asset forfeiture.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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