CA Senate Votes to Correct Disparities in Sentencing for Crack and Powder Cocaine

Advancement of SB 1010 shows readiness to move toward more effective and fair sentencing laws

SACRAMENTO, CA — On May 28, the California State Senate advanced the California Fair Sentencing Act (SB 1010), authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). SB 1010 corrects the groundless disparity in penalties between crack cocaine and powder cocaine that 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, a member of the Senate Public Safety Committee. “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. Scientific reports, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that they have nearly identical effects on the human body and that gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack than in powder cocaine.

In addition, the Senate Public Safety Committee staff analysis noted that African Americans are imprisoned for possession of crack cocaine for sale at a rate 43.25 times that of Whites. Moreover, the analysis noted that, “despite the fact that white adolescents use drugs at much higher rates than minority adolescents, the US Department of Justice found that juvenile arrests disproportionately involve minorities.”

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, people of color accounted for over 98% of persons sent to prison for possession of crack cocaine for sale in 2005-2010. Blacks accounted for 77.4% of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos for 18.1%, and whites for less than 2%. Blacks make up 6.6% of the California state population, Latinos 38.2%, and whites 39.4%.

“SB 1010 corrects this systematic sentencing disparity, not grounded in science that disproportionately affects communities of color” said Scott Sugarman, President of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. “The time has come for equal justice under the law.”

The California Fair Sentencing Act is cosponsored by a dozen civil rights and criminal justice reform organizations, including the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU of California, A New Way of Life, California State Conference of the NAACP, Californians for Safety and Justice, California Public Defenders Association, Ella Baker Center, Friends Committee on Legislation, National Council for La Raza, and the William C. Velasquez Institute. SB 1010 is supported by over 100 organizations and legal scholars, including four California district attorneys, Jeff Rosen of Santa Clara, Jackie Lacey of Los Angeles, George Gascón of San Francisco and Joyce Dudley of Santa Barbara.