Bill seeks to cut disparity in cocaine case sentences

Four senators have introduced the Drug Sentencing Reform Act of 2006 which would reduce the disparity between mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine:

That disparity in federal sentencing guidelines is currently 100-to-1. It would be reduced to 20-to-1 under a measure introduced yesterday by Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Ken Salazar of Colorado.

They argue that crack is more dangerous and should be more severely punished than powder cocaine:

The crack/powder sentencing disparity — which has resulted in higher incarceration rates for blacks convicted of drug crimes — long has been targeted by groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union.
In 2000, more than 84 percent of those sentenced for crack cocaine distribution were black, while 9 percent were Hispanic and 5 percent were white. By contrast, 30 percent of those sentenced for powdered cocaine were black, 50 percent were Hispanic and 15 percent were white.

The senators are trying to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, but not remove it.

“Crack is a more dangerous commodity,” Mr. Sessions said. Although powdered cocaine is usually snorted, crack is usually smoked. Mr. Sessions said crack is more addictive and causes more paranoia and violence than powdered cocaine.

It’s good to see the disparity reduced, but maintaining any disparity makes little sense to me. Historically, we know that societal beliefs about which drugs are dangerous are influenced by factors other than science and objectivity.