Assembly Committee Passes Bill to Eliminate the Sentencing Disparity Between Crack and Powder Cocaine

Bi-partisan support sends the California Fair Sentencing Act to the Assembly floor

July 2, 2014

SACRAMENTO, CA — Facing its final committee hearing in Assembly Appropriations today, the California Fair Sentencing Act (SB 1010) authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) won approval in a 12-3 vote.  SB 1010 now moves on to the Assembly floor for its final legislative vote.

Mitchell’s bill will correct the groundless disparity in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine.  This disparity has resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and incarceration in California.

“It’s time to end discriminatory sentencing for cocaine: whether possessed or sold as crack or as powder, it’s the same drug and violators should get the same treatment under the law,” said Senator Mitchell, chair of the Black Legislative Caucus. “Let’s stop demonizing drug-use when committed in communities of color while minimizing consequences for the white-collar version.”

Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug. However, the sentencing penalty for crack cocaine is an outlier when compared to similar drugs, including powder cocaine and heroine.

“The current disparities in our drug laws amount to institutional racism,” said Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Fair Sentencing Act will take a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980’s drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men. The time has long come.”

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.

Mitchell’s bill is cosponsored by a dozen civil rights and criminal justice reform organizations across the state. Cosponsors include the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Californians for Safety and Justice, California Public Defenders Association, Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU of California, A New Way of Life, California State Conference of the NAACP, Ella Baker Center, Friends Committee on Legislation, National Council for La Raza, and the William C. Velasquez Institute. The California Fair Sentencing Act has garnering over 100 letters of support from across the state and the nation. Significantly, SB 1010 has received support from four sitting district attorneys, Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey, Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen, San Francisco DA George Gascón and Santa Barbara DA Joyce Dudley.