The Common Good

Equal Justice Under the Law: The Case for Cocaine Sentencing Reform

A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but an accurate weight is his delight. (Proverbs 11:1)

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I call upon all people of goodwill to support H.R. 1459, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. Senator Jim Webb recently sounded the alarm about the brokenness of our prison systems. His pronouncement, of course, is nothing new, but it lends visible and much-needed support to the cause of prison reform. And, to be sure, altering cocaine sentencing policy lies at heart of prison reform.

But why, inquiring citizens ask, should we use every available means at our disposal to contact our respective members of the House Judiciary and House Committee on Energy and Commerce and express support for H.R. 1459? Briefly phrased, cocaine sentencing disparities disproportionately impact minorities, interrogating our national commitment to equal justice under the law. H.R. 1459 aims to alter the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate two things. First, it aims to "eliminate increased penalties for cocaine offenses where the cocaine involved is cocaine base." And secondly, it aspires to eradicate "minimum mandatory imprisonment penalties for cocaine offenses." The title of H.R. 1459, Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act, assumes that a gross inequity exists within current sentencing policy (the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, PL 99-570, to be exact). The inequity, referred to by many as the "100:1 quantity ratio", means that "it takes 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger

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