Friday, July 30, 2010

We've Come a Long Way, Baby

Day two and counting in a new world where 1/18th the amount of crack cocaine will get you the same sentence as someone with 18 times as much powder cocaine. 

And people aren't panicking.

It's so refreshing!

People are actually asking some interesting questions -- and making some downright rational observations -- about what this new world could look like.

This Chicago Sun-Times editorial questions whether Congress could have gone further and treated crack the same as powder and whether the "crack epidemic" was ever really as bad as Congress thought it was.

This Delaware piece comes right out and concedes that the last time Congress created crack sentences, it was motivated by fear, not facts:
When he was a senator, Joe Biden was a leading supporter of what amounted to a zero-tolerance approach to crack convictions, as violent crime spread from urban to suburban America. He has since acknowledged what others in the criminal justice community know to be the truth. Fear, rather than fairness, motivated the sharply different prison terms.
President Obama has said he'll sign the new crack legislation.

This interesting story from the Bristol Press puts a local perspective on crack and cocaine, highlighting a DEA seizure of over "$2 million in cocaine — 26 kilograms of powder cocaine worth $2.6 million on the street and two kilograms of crack cocaine, plus $650,000 in cash" in New Britain, Connecticut.  But instead of going haywire and saying the sky has fallen, the editors had the wisdom to distinguish this huge haul from the low-level drug users who need "treatment programs and sentences such as community service and fines."

The crack reforms passed on Wednesday certainly eased super-harsh punishments for many low-level crack offenders and addicts.

And this article puts Congress's reform in a new light entirely:  once upon a time, you could get a death threat for trying to treat crack defendants fairly.  Minnesota judge Pamela Alexander got death threats back in 1991 when she ruled that stiffer penalties for crack were discriminatory and unfair.  I hope Congressmen don't get those kinds of letters today -- we're actually beginning to have some sane and humane conversations about drugs, crime, and punishment!

And Debra Saunders, a self-described "token conservative," literally cheers on the Republicans who stepped up for a more just cocaine sentencing scheme. 

We've come a long way, baby.  I'm hearing a lot less hysterical ranting and a lot more rational conversation out there today on drug sentencing laws.  It's music to my ears.

-- Stowe