One of our most infamous contemporary laws is the 100-1 difference in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Under federal drug laws, prison sentences are usually tied to the quantity of drugs the defendant trafficked. For example, selling 5,000 grams of powder cocaine (about a briefcase full) gets a mandatory 10-year prison sentence, but so does selling only 50 grams of crack cocaine (the weight of a candy bar).
Working for the House Judiciary Committee in 1986, I wrote the House bill that was the basis for that law. We made some terrible mistakes.
Drug sentences are on the national agenda again because civil rights supporters are justifiably outraged that almost all federal crack prosecutions involve people of color. Indeed, for years no whites were prosecuted for crack offenses in many federal courts, including those in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Denver, Dallas or Boston.