Criminalization of Crack versus Cocaine

Cocaine is a white or colorless crystalline alkaloid that is extracted from the leaves of coca plant. Although it is sometimes used as a medicinal compound, it has widely been abused because of its stimulating and euphoric effects. Cocaine occurs either in the form of crack cocaine or cocaine hydrochloride. Both the two forms of cocaine have been abused in the United States and their uses have been criminalized.

The abusers of the drug often snort the powdered hydrochloride form of cocaine or dissolve the drug in water and inject themselves intravenously. The street name given to another form of cocaine is crack which is processed to yield a rock crystal that when heated produces the vapors which can be smoked. The name crack refers to the type of sound produced when the rock crystal is heated (Platt, 2005). This sound produced is of crackling nature hence the name crack cocaine.

The psychoactive and physiological effects of cocaine share significant similarities and it does not matter if the form of cocaine taken is crack cocaine or cocaine hydrochloride. However, some slight variations range from the duration, immediacy and magnitude of the effect of the form of cocaine taken.

The frequency as well as the amount of the drug forms smoked or injected also has some variations in the psychoactive and physiological difference in the effects.

The form of cocaine used does not have any important variation in the general effects in humans.
Cocaine was prohibited in the United States in the wake of the 20th century. Journalists and writers used the terms Cocainized Niggers and Negro Cocaine Fiends to zoom the sales which caused a nationwide panic about the raping of the white women by the black men who were high on using cocaine (Elbert, 2010). Consequently, the 1914 saw the enacting of the Harrison Act that required all the cocaine and opiate sellers to acquire a license. However, these licenses were only distributed among the white people and the blacks were never allowed to have the licenses.

The Harrison Act, 1914 was originally intended to require persons to have paper trails of all drug transactions between the drug stores, doctors and patients. However, this changed afterwards and the Act became a prohibitive law. This shows how the wording of the law was rather vague since the Harrison Act, 1914 was initially intended to be a mechanism for revenue tracking which required opiate prescriptions.

The penalties that are induced on the use of the two forms of cocaine vary. For instance, the federal guidelines for sentencing the possession of cocaine are a hundred times more than those for crack cocaine. Therefore, in triggering compulsory minimum penalties is believed to be excessive. Crack cocaine has been associated with crimes to a greater level than the cocaine hydrochloride form. However, majority of these crimes have been associated with the cocaine addiction and not the form of cocaine used.

Racial Disparity in Cocaine Sentencing
Apart from war on terrorism and nuclear war, the attitude of Americans on drugs has also become an important problem that the country faces today. Particularly, the problem of racial disparity on cocaine sentencing has increasingly drawn a debate and caused a growing controversy. In the early 1980s the politicians and the United States at large entered into an important era that accorded much focus on the problem of drugs.

In 1984, the Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act (CCCA) that gave guidelines on how federal defendants were supposed to be sentenced. In the recent past, the amendments to the CCCA provided for the 1001 ratio of enhancement between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

The October 17th, 1986 became the first time racial disparity was shown in the sentencing of cocaine possession (Keith, 1999).  Crack cocaine is mainly used by blacks while the powdered cocaine is used among the whites. The minimum imprisonment period for crack cocaine was set to be 10 years with the possession of 50 grams while the minimum imprisonment period for powdered cocaine was set to be 10 years for 50 grams. The rationale here was that it was a more criminal offense to possess crack cocaine than powdered cocaine shining light into racial disparity among the blacks and the whites.

In this direction, the war on drugs has been perceived as the war on blacks. This observation has been made from the reports that there are more black males in prisons than there are in colleges. The crack cocaine provisions have clearly been seen as unconstitutional and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the US Act.

Although crack elicits more immediate addiction responses than powdered cocaine, the rationale for imposing punishment on its users 100 times more than the users of powdered cocaine does not come out clear. It is the question of racial disparity that is presented in the differences in sentencing. It should be noted that sentencing has to be standard. If too short sentencing is provided, it may cause more crime to ensue and if too long sentences are provided, it may as well lead to reinforcing criminal tendencies of defendants. The fight on erasing the disparity in cocaine sentencing has gained significant success and is expected to end the controversial ratio of 100 1 disparity between the sentencing of crack and powder cocaine.

The legacy moment of Alexander as a County judge as Hennepin started in 1990 with her strong ruling to dismiss the charges against the five men who were brought forward concerning the possession of crack cocaine. Alexander ruled that the laws of Minnesota that differentiated between the two forms of cocaine, crack and powder were discriminatory (Gross, 2001).  At her time during the 1990s, crack possession which was the drug of choice among the blacks, led to the sentencing of a number of individuals for 20 years. The disparity was seen in the difference in the sentencing of powder cocaine possession of five years. The suggested reason for this difference was racism since powder cocaine was the drug of choice among the whites.

Alexanders arguments were validated by the Supreme Court at Minnesota and the state legislature positively responded to her claims.

The US Sentencing Commission validated the decisions by Alexander in 1990 that voted to lighten the sentences that were imposed on the possession of crack cocaine in the federal system. This effort was made to remind the courts should not be sensitive in defending the whites. Alexander refused to be elated about the Supreme Courts ruling identifying that the pace at which justice was moving was much slower and called for some action.

Alexander felt that she was lucky not to become a federal judge since the federal judiciary is largely bound to follow the guidelines of sentencing that seem to be mediated by the regional politics.

The Office of the National Drug Control Policy actions continues to increasingly draw a controversy on the rhetoric of a change away from the principal enforcement-based reactions to the illegitimate cocaine abuse. The compulsory minimum penalty for crack cocaine is a hundred times more severe compared to the penalties for powder cocaine. Despite the Congress having knowledge of this, it has failed to change these sentences. Although the Sentencing Commission and other commissions have sent recommendations to the Congress, the actions have not been implemented and these differences in sentencing of crack cocaine and powder cocaine

It is a great contrast that it takes only 5 grams of crack compared to 500 grams of crack to warrant a drug user individual a 5 year compulsory minimum sentence. In another equivalent, 50 grams of crack is enough to warrant a person a compulsory minimum sentence of ten years. Contrary to powder cocaine, 500 grams of the powder is the agreed quantity that can warrant a person a ten-year compulsory minimum sentencing. These differences have been shown in a number of cases in the United States.

An example of some of the cases that have been decided without justice was the case that involved Calvin Williams in the year 2005. Williams pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in distributing crack cocaine breaching the United States Constitution, 21 (846) and 18 (2) pursuant to the agreement in a plea. The district court after granting Williams a motion for downward departure, it sentenced him for 235 months imprisonments that were based upon his own status as a career offender. Afterwards, Williamson appealed to the court and was remanded for the re-sentencing pursuant to the United States v. Booker in 2005.

While on remand, Williams was sentenced to 144 months imprisonment by the district court according to the agreement on the plea. This duration was increased after subsequent considerations that Williams was a career offender. Although Williams filed a motion to modify his sentence according to the constitution, the district court did not respond to such a claim for evidentially hearing.

Another case that showed disparity in sentencing which involved the decision of the court on powder cocaine and crack was the United States v. Hamilton, 2006. The case was decided on the 30th March, 2006. The court found that the chemical compound contained in crack and powder was the same both in structure and effect. The compound that was under investigation was C17H21NO4 which was found to be common in both forms. The compound is naturally present in the leaves of coca which are processed and imported into the United States. The processing of the compound takes place by the dissolution of cocaine base in a water and hydrochloric acid. This then creates cocaine hydrochloride salt, C17H22ClNO4 also known as powder cocaine. The powdered cocaine can be converted into the base form by heating it with a mixture of water and baking soda.

The court declared that there were no major differences between crack and powder cocaine using the results that were obtained from experiments that were carried out by the governments forensic chemists. The forensic chemists found out that there were no major differences between crack and powdered cocaine in terms of chemical composition and all had a potential to cause the same effects in the psychology and physiology of humans. (Di Iulo, 2004)

The powder could easily be converted back to the original base compound through chemical reactions.

Despite of the courts ruling in the United States v. Hamilton, 2006, there is a great disparity in sentence fashioning that is imposed on the defendants who are found guilty of the offenses associated with crack cocaine and those offenses related to powder cocaine. For instance, there is a commonly known ratio of 1001 that refers to the ratio of powder to crack pursuant to which a defendant who possesses a certain quantity of crack will be given the similar compulsory minimum sentence like the defendants possessing 100 times powder cocaine amount.  The adopted guidelines have integrated the ratios such that the 5kg of powder cocaine is perceived equivalent to the 50g of crack cocaine they are scored at similar level.

Rationales of the Disparity in Sentencing
The disparity of sentencing has received wide criticism and the United States Sentencing Commission has itself repeatedly suggested that it is more appropriate to have a ratio of 201. There are a number of rationales that have been reported to be based on weak grounds by the Sentencing Commission. These rationales that were initially relied upon to generate the disparity between the crack and powder cocaine have been reported to be unsupportable.

These Sentencing Commission claims that the harms that are associated with crack do not give good reason for any substantially ruthless treatment (Nicole, 2007). The second claim to disapprove the rationale of the disparities in sentencing in crack and powder cocaine is that the increased addictiveness to crack does not result from any pharmacological difference between crack and powder.

The development of addiction has instead been observed to be caused by the differing manner in which the two forms of drugs are administered and used. Crack is widely used by the drug users which make it to cause more addiction than powder cocaine. Equally, the intravenous administration of crack makes it to cause addictions more easily than powder cocaine.

The Sentencing Commission also identifies that the harms that are connected to crack are not as very severe as they were initially feared and are no more serious than the harms that result from powder cocaine exposure. The fourth observation by the Sentencing Commission is the larger numbers of the defendants who are subject to the increased penalties do not fit the mold of high-level or serious traffickers that the Congress intended to target when it was initially establishing the penalties. Contrary to the intention of the Congress, majority of the offenders of crack cocaine who receive the harsh penalties are low-level offenders.

The Sentencing Commission also identifies the crack cocaine as the only drug that has such harsh penalties imposed on low-level offenders and finally, the sixth claim by the commission proposes that the high penalties particularly for small amounts of crack cocaine have been seen to divert the federal resources thus avoiding the high-level traffickers and directing the resources and energy to low-level drug dealers (Tonry, 1995). In general the Sentencing Commission suggests that the injustice which exist in the sentencing of defendants should be done with justice and respect for equality. Lastly, the disparity in crack versus powder brings about a disparate impact along the lines of racism with the black offenders getting harsher penalties than their white counterparts.

In the year 2007, the Brenna Center for Justice at New York University School of Law gave a report which was a product of the meeting that was hosted by the Brennan Center and the National Institute for Law and Equity, NILE. In the report, the issue of the effects of racial disparities in the sentencing of communities, long-term incarceration and the public confidence on the enforcement of the public law were discussed.

On November 1st 2007, the new amendments to the guidelines were set in place and the sentencing ranges were lowered for crack crimes by about two levels. On December 11, 2007, the US Sentencing Commission passed a decision to make the decrease in sentencing retroactive. The September 9th, 2008, the district court ruled out that the reduction on sentencing does not apply to career offenders but for other cocaine possessions (Jeralyn, 2010).

The discriminatory and arbitral disparity between crack cocaine and cocaine powder implicates the United States constitution. This observation is made by the argument that unless someone assumes that the penalties for powder cocaine are too low, then the far-reaching crack penalties are at the odds corresponding with the offense seriousness. The lack of a logical rationale for the disparities of crack sentencing and disproportionate impact on one disfavored race enhances the abuse of law and suggests that the preceding sentences are all done unjustly (Sher, 2003).

There are three forms of arguments or rationale used for criminalization of cocaine. These arguments are paternalistic, protective and perfectionist arguments.

The paternalistic argument is based on the fact that the nature of the detrimental effects a drug has and which the users of the drug risk is the function of the drugs which they use. The most important effect of cocaine and especially the crack cocaine is the addictive nature of the drug. Crack is more addictive than any form of cocaine hence the heavy sentence given.

The protective argument is based on the harm the drug may cause to other people apart from the actual user. The use of cocaine causes the strangers to be harmed by making collisions and shooting as well as other problems to which the overly aggressive and the impaired are always exposed to them (Wisotsky, 1996). The drug deprives the family of the peace that can enable the family to live with cohesiveness.

The children may be subjected to neglect and continue to difficulties. The third argument is the perfectionist reasoning. This argument holds that there is a broad consensus about the many factors which determine the good and evil.

Other people hold that it is illegal when to find people stumbling through lives with a distorted and blurred view of the reality

Efforts to Decriminalize Cocaine Possession
The Attorney General Eric Holder has strongly defended the use of cocaine and allied substances for medical purposes. Holder held a senior position as a legal advisor to President-Elect Obama. For instance, he defended that the Justice Department should not raid the medical marijuana clubs that are legally established under the state law. The declaration fulfils the president Barrack Obamas campaign promises and marks a significant shift from the earlier Bush administration that criminalized the use of cocaine even for medical reasons.

While it was noted that the Drug Enforcement Administration still carried out such raids, Holder defended that the raids were not part of the American policy that would be embraced in the future. Despite hostility in the legalization of medical uses of cocaine and marijuana, the movement for decriminalization has been growing for decades and it is expected that the Obama administration will have lots of changes.

In another effort, the Attorney General directed the federal prosecutors to stop pursuing cases that involved medical marijuana patients paving way for the decriminalization of cocaine that is used for medical reasons. This has been seen as a broad shift in policy that a number of drug reform advocates have interpreted as the initial stage in the decriminalization of cocaine and marijuana medical uses. This marked the changes through which the efforts would be heightened against the fight to make medical use of cocaine acceptable.

The Council on Crime and Justice is non- partisan, independent and a non-profit organ that has made possible the provision of innovative solutions and leadership to the social and criminal issues of concern related to justice in the state of Minnesota for over five decades.

At the height of a growing controversy in disparities in sentencing involved in two substances, cocaine and crack, the Council through its advocacy roles have become imperative in the establishing policy and system change. The advocacy is mainly focused on identification of the collateral statutory effects and the further quantification of the impacts of all the arrests.

The initiative of the Council on Crime and Justice is aimed at the helping the offenders to succeed and thus reduce the rate of recidivism among the cocaine and other related drug offenders. The efforts of the Council on Crime and Justice will also address the disparities in the sentencing of the offenders in terms of color as the sentencing show some racial differences. The Council on Crime and Justice made a step to accord Judge Pamela Alexander a high-profile platform which provided a chance to be outspoken concerning her apprehensions. In the current status, the council has carried enormous research on the bare truth of disparities based on racism particularly in the state of Minnesota.

It been observed that in recent years, a number of white prisoners who have been convicted of methamphetamine-related offenses has gone high. However, over the last 18 years, the major drugs-related offenses leading the offenders in prison were caused by cocaine and crack. The Council on Crime and Justice identifies that majority of the offenders who have been sent to prison due to crack and cocaine was among the minority group members. For instance, in 2006 alone, up to 90 percent of the prisoners who were sentenced for the offenses related to crack were members of the minority. This percentage of the crack offenses was higher than the 71 percent which was the percentage of cocaine prisoners (Council on Crime and Justice, 2010). The statistics from the Council on Crime and Justice clearly indicate the disparity that exists between the sentencing of crack and cocaine prisoners.

The council also identifies that there have been severe penalties and aggressive law enforcement for drug offenses with the majority of the arrested individuals, convicted or imprisoned for such crimes being non-whites. It has also been noted that huge numbers of disadvantaged blacks are being imprisoned and serve long sentences in jails to reduce the attractions and drug use among the non-whites. The council also found out that Minnesota had the most unfair judgment when the Minnesota sentencing laws were compared with other states. In Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission report, it was found that 10g transaction in crack or powder cocaine triggered a 30-year punishment in Minnesota. Other states have higher threshold amounts of cocaine. For instance, Illinois allows up to 900grams while Iowas allows 5kg.

In general, the criminalization of cocaine has taken different direction since it was first extracted from cocoa leaves. While the use of cocaine is illegal and subject to his prosecution, crack cocaine has been heightened. This uncalled for expectations have made the punishment to be more severe in crack cocaine than compared to powder cocaine. The Sentencing Commission has created a new hope for the road to justice. In addition, the Obama administration is expected to cause great transformations in the perception of the two substances, the powder cocaine and crack cocaine. In the future, the existing disparity will be a story to talk about and sanity in the judicial procedures will have a place among the judges.


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