Crack vs. Powder

A recent story by the Associated Press, “Crack-vs.-powder disparity is questioned,” documents attempts to equalize punishment associated with illegal drug use. Last month, federal sentencing guidelines were adjusted for crack offenses, which had formerly upheld penalties that were 100x more severe than than those related to powdered cocaine. The differences in the effects of the drug — based on its form and therefore its type of ingestion — had apparently been exaggerated.

And the reason? Some seem to believe racisim:

Many defense lawyers and civil rights advocates say the lopsided perception of crack versus cocaine is rooted in racism. Four out of every five crack defendants are black, while most powdered-cocaine defendants are white.

The article continues by outlining how the use of crack and powdered cocaine came to fall along racial lines — and it’s quite an interesting read. In the end, though, I wonder at the nuances of this story. How could the case have been made that the ingestion of the same drug could have such wildly different results? Or could it be, as alluded to in the quotation above, that lawmakers only needed to see the statistics and demographics to believe one type is worse than the other?

The initial law was written in 1986. I wonder what it would take to make the same case today, 20 years later.