Ethan Nadelmann in The Nation:
For those of us who fought long and hard to reform the notorious 100-to-one crack/powder cocaine disparity in federal law, the Fair Sentencing Act, signed by President Obama on August 3, is at once a historic victory and a major disappointment. It's both too little, too late and a big step forward.
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which punished the sale of five grams of crack cocaine the same as 500 grams of powder cocaine, reflected the bipartisan drug war hysteria of the day and was approved with virtually no consideration of scientific evidence or the fiscal and human consequences. The argument for reform has always been twofold: sending someone to federal prison for five years for selling the equivalent of a few sugar packets of cocaine is unreasonably harsh, and it disproportionately affects minorities (almost 80 percent of those sentenced are African-Americans, even though most users and sellers of crack are not black).
The new law increases the amount of crack cocaine that can result in a five-year sentence to twenty-eight grams (i.e., an ounce), thereby reducing the crack/powder ratio to eighteen to one. It also eliminates the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession (without intent to distribute) of crack cocaine, thereby marking the first time since 1970 that Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum sentence.
What is the broader significance of the new law?