**Update: After the passing of Proposition 47, a misdemeanor charge for personal possession of cocaine is punishable by a maximum of one year in county jail.**
The federal Anti-Drug Use Act of 1986 created separate sentencing guidelines for crimes involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine. California adopted the same sentences a year later, resulting in crimes involving crack being sentenced 100 times harsher than crimes involving powder cocaine. Under the law, it takes one-tenth the amount of crack cocaine to trigger the same strict sentences as powder cocaine. 1
In an effort to reduce severe prison overcrowding, California is rethinking overly harsh criminal sentencing, especially for nonviolent crimes such as drug offenses. The California State Senate recently gave initial approval to Senate Bill 1010, which would reduce penalties for possessing crack cocaine for sale so they would match the punishment for crimes involving powder cocaine. 2
The bill will soon be voted on by the California State Assembly. If passed, it will then go before the governor for final approval. 3
Reducing Penalties for Possessing Crack Cocaine for Sale (Senate Bill 1010)
Under California Health and Safety Code Section 11352, possession of crack cocaine with the intent to sell is currently punishable by three, four or five years in county jail and a fine of up to $20,000.
Introduced by State Senator Holly Mitchell, Senate Bill 1010 would reduce the penalties for possession of crack cocaine (also known as cocaine base) for sale to equal the penalties for possession of powder cocaine. If passed, sentencing for those convicted of possessing cocaine base for sale would be reduced to two, three or four years in county jail. 4
The proposed bill would also make it easier for anyone convicted of either of these possession of cocaine offenses to obtain probation in lieu of jail time.
Why Pass Senate Bill 1010?
Supporters of Senate Bill 1010 argue that California’s current laws have led to institutional racism, citing state statistics that show African Americans are imprisoned for possession of crack cocaine for sale at a rate of 43 times more than whites. Since the sentencing guidelines were adopted in the late 1980s, cocaine base has been associated more with African Americans in urban neighborhoods, while powder cocaine has been more popular among wealthy and middle-class whites. 5
According to supporters of SB 1010, sentencing guidelines have led to a culture of rehabilitation amongst whites who possessed powder cocaine and arrest and punishment for blacks who possessed crack cocaine. The Journal of the American Medical Association said the two forms of cocaine have essentially the same effects on the human body. 6
Should Penalties for Selling Crack Cocaine and Powder Cocaine Be Equal?
What do you think about California’s proposed new bill? Should possession of crack cocaine for sale carry the same punishment as possession of powder cocaine for sale? Do sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine promote racism? Should California pass Senate Bill 1010 into law?
Wallin & Klarich would like to hear your opinion on this matter. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
2. [Bills on crack cocaine, medicinal pot advance in California, May 28, 2014, http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-80341482/]↩