Friday, July 23, 2010

If It's Broke, Fix It

Today's Houston Chronicle features this op-ed from Eric Sterling, a/k/a the man who was there at the beginning, when Congress created our current mandatory minimum drug laws (including those for crack cocaine) back in 1986:

I was the assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Committee assigned to help the committee get the numbers right, but we failed. Congress picked different quantities for various drugs to identify drug traffickers who would get at least five years, and up to 40 years, in prison - 100 grams of heroin, 10 grams of pure PCP, one gram of LSD, 500 grams of cocaine powder and five grams of crack cocaine. Larger quantities, such as 5,000 grams of cocaine powder or 50 grams of crack cocaine, get a mandatory sentence of 10 years and up to life in prison. Obviously, in the world of major league cocaine traffickers who smuggle tons of cocaine (a metric ton is 1 million grams), these are trivial quantities.
Sterling nicely highlights one of the compelling reasons the House should pass the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 and alleviate some of that unfair 100-to-1 disparity between powder and crack cocaine:  the current crack quantities (50 grams earns you 10 years) have "sent tens of thousands of low-level crack cocaine dealers to much longer prison terms than cocaine kingpins."

As Sterling shows by his own example, it's never too late to admit that a system is broken and fix it.