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California Adopts Law Ending Disparity Between Crack and Cocaine

California Governor Jerry Brown signed The California Fair Sentencing Act eliminating the disparity in sentencing for cocaine

California took an important step last night in reducing the inherent racism in its drug laws and how they are enforced. Among the dozens of bills signed by California Governor Jerry Brown (D) on Sunday was SB 1010, The California Fair Sentencing Act, sponsored by State Senator Holly Mitchell (D).

The law, which takes effect at the beginning of 2015, will make the penalties for crack cocaine offenses the same as those for powder cocaine. Cocaine is cocaine.

While they are just two different forms of the same drug, during the 1980’s laws were adopted to make the penalties for crack cocaine offenses more draconian than cocaine offenses. Creating this higher tier for crack appears motivated by the perception that crack was considered a “Black” and “inner city” drug while powder cocaine was associated with white users. These drug war-era laws have resulted in an explosion in the prison population, particularly among minorities.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “People of color account for over 98 percent of persons sent to California prisons for possession of crack cocaine for sale. From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4 percent of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos accounted for 18.1 percent. Whites accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons in that five year period. Blacks make up 6.6 percent of the population in California; Latinos 38.2 percent, and whites 39.4 percent.”

While Congress did reduce the disparity between how it treats crack cocaine and powder cocaine under federal law, this effectively racist legal distinction continues to exist in our national laws. Consider that for a moment. It is 2014 and we still have laws that any sane observer will acknowledge are unfair and racist.

Photo by Marco Gomes under Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at