It is the end of an injustice that is partly responsible for the high rate of black incarceration in the United States. The US attorney general on Friday (December 16) instructed prosecutors not to treat cocaine-related offenses differently from those involving crack cocaine.
In a directive to his office, Minister Merrick Garland said there was no reason to treat the two drugs differently. “Science simply does not show a difference between crack and cocaine because there is no significant pharmacological difference between the two drugs”he specifies in this directive published by the ministry.
When crack, a derivative of cocaine, swept through the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, Congress passed legislation — outlined by former senator and current President Joe Biden — that established harsher penalties for trafficking or possessing the drug than for cocaine.
The law gave up to five years in prison for a person in possession of 500 grams of cocaine, while having five grams of crack was enough to see the same punishment. Possession of crack carried a mandatory prison sentence for the first offense over five grams. She attributed this disparity to the supposed more intense effect of crack, according to the organization The Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to prison and denounces racial bias in sentencing in the United States.
Crack more prevalent among African Americans
At the time, crack was prevalent in the African-American community, while cocaine was more common in privileged and white neighborhoods, according to The Sentencing Project. As a result, blacks were more often sentenced to long prison terms during the “crack epidemic”, increasing prison populations for long periods of time. Even today, the incarceration rate of black Americans in state prisons is nearly five times that of white Americans.
In 2010, a law repealed the mandatory prison sentence, but possession of crack cocaine was still punished much more severely than possession of cocaine. In 2018, Donald Trump signed new legislation allowing crack users and dealers to appeal.
But in his memo, President Joe Biden appointee Merrick Garland explained that “the difference in sentence [dans les affaires de] crack and cocaine are still responsible for unjustified racial disparities in sentencing”.
Mr. Garland added that the Biden administration supported a bill to commute the sentences. This text was presented to Congress in January 2021, but did not proceed.