Eye on Congress
Crack-Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 1997
This bill was introduced on June 24, by Representative Charles Rangel and would amend the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to eliminate certain mandatory minimum penalties relating to crack cocaine offenses. H.R. 2031 has 17 cosponsors and the support of the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and House Commerce Committees.
The Sentencing Commission proposed a reduction in disparity in powder and crack cocaine sentences. There is still no report from the Department of Justice and the drug Czar's office on this recommendation, but it is past due and should be published soon. Eric E. Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation said of the Sentencing Commission's recommendations, "There are at least six reasons why this proposal stinks." One of his concerns is that it will delay real reform. H.R. 2031 would make better strides toward reform, but as written does not include retroactivity.
Honorable Charles B. Rangel's introductory remarks -
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the Crack Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 1997. The bill, if enacted, would remove the arbitrary and unfair distinction between powder and crack cocaine sentencing. As predicted, earlier this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission again concluded that Federal drug laws that treat crack cocaine defendants 100 times more severely than powder cocaine defendants cannot be justified. I am proud to be joined in sponsorship of this important bill by a majority of the Congressional Black Caucus.
In 1995, the U.S. Sentencing Commission released a study of Federal sentencing policy as it relates to possession and distribution of all forms of cocaine. Specifically directed by the Omnibus Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the Sentencing Commission reported on the current structure of differing penalties for powder cocaine and crack cocaine offenses and to provide recommendations for modification of these differences. Again, following a congressional mandated study, the Sentencing Commission has restated their stance against the current 100 to 1 ratio. This time, the Commission voted unanimously to lower the sentencing disparity and asked Congress and President Clinton to address the issue within 60 days. Your support of the Crack Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 1997 as an original cosponsor will facilitate timely consideration of the Commission's request.
Included in the mandatory minimum penalties enacted by Congress in 1986 and 1988 was an arbitrary distinction between crack and powder cocaine that singled out crack cocaine for much harsher treatment. The laws had the effect of creating a 100 to 1 quantity ratio for triggering equal treatment for the two pharmacologically identical drugs. For example, under current law, if a person tried in Federal court is found in possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine, he would be subject to a mandatory 5-year penalty. If that same person is found with 5, 50, or 400 grams of powder cocaine, he would face a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison. It would take 500 grams of powder cocaine to bring the same punishment for possessing 5 grams of crack cocaine.
Despite the fact that I originally supported the Crack Sentencing legislation, I now recognize that it's application has revealed a strongly biased and flawed statute. My strong advocacy against drug trafficking and abuse does not blind me from my responsibility to correct failed policy, no matter the author.
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE-This Act may be cited as the "Crack-Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 1997."
SEC. 2. TRAFFICKING AMENDMENTS.
(a) 50 GRAM PENALTY- Section 401(b)(1)(A) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A)) is amended by striking clause (iii).
(b) 5 GRAM PENALTY- Section 401(b)(1)(B) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(B)) is amended by striking clause (iii).
SEC. 3. POSSESSION AMENDMENT-Section 404(a) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 844(a)) is amended by striking the sentence that begins "Notwithstanding the preceding sentence."
SEC. 4. IMPORTATION AMENDMENTS.
(a) 50 GRAM PENALTY- Section 1010(b)(1) of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 960(b)(1)) is amended by striking out subparagraph (C).
(b) 5 GRAM PENALTY- Section 1010(b)(2) of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 960(b)(2)) is amended by striking out subparagraph (C).
SEC. 5. SENTENCING COMMISSION TO AMEND GUIDELINES-Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the United States Sentencing Commission shall promulgate such amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines as are necessary to conform those Guidelines to the amendments made by this Act.
Safety Valve - Retroactivity Update
H.R. 1237, a bill that would make the "Safety Valve" of the 1994 Crime Bill retroactive is still in the House Judicial Committee. We spoke with Robert Raben of Representative Barney Frank's office who said, "Letters to your respective federal representatives must be sent urging passage of this bill."
Medical Use of Marijuana Act
H.R.1782, was introduced in the House by Representative Frank. The bill would legalize marijuana for medical uses. It has three cosponsors: Rep. Pelosi, Rep. Lofgren and Rep. Woolsey. It was immediately referred to the House Committee on Commerce and on June 18 was referred to the subcommittee on Health and the Environment.
On June 10 a promising asset forfeiture bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by congressional "heavy-hitters" and an unusual alliance of House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) sponsored H.R. 1835, a corrective measure that would provide a more just and uniform procedure for Federal civil forfeitures. This representsthe closest our legislature has ever come to true reform of our current abusive forfeiture laws. The following legislators cosponsored the bill:
A Commission on National Drug Policy?
More specifically, the duties of Commission would be to:
(a) STUDY- The Commission shall conduct a comprehensive study of the unlawful production, distribution, and use of controlled substances, including-
(1) an investigation into the various causes of the unlawful use in the United States of controlled substances and the relative significance of the various causes;
(2) an evaluation of the efficacy of existing Federal laws regarding the unlawful production, distribution, and use of controlled substances, including the efficacy of Federal minimum sentences for violations of the laws regarding the unlawful sale and use of controlled substances;
(3) an analysis of the costs, benefits, risks, and advantages of the present national policy regarding controlled substances and of potential modifications of that policy, including an analysis of what proportion of the funds dedicated to combating the unlawful sale and use of controlled substances should be devoted to-
(A) interdicting controlled substances entering the United States unlawfully;
(B) enforcing Federal laws relating the unlawful production, distribution, and use of controlled substances;
(C) education and other forms of preventing the unlawful use of controlled substances; or
(D) rehabilitating individuals who use controlled substances unlawfully; and
(4) an analysis of methods of rehabilitation, including an evaluation of the efficacy of current methods and suggestions for new methods.
Appointments to the Commission would be composed of 13 members, appointed from among qualified individuals. The president would appoint 5 members, not more than 3 who belong to the same political party. The majority leader of the Senate and minority leader of the Senate would each appoint two individuals.
This bill has 18 cosponsors and has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, the Committee on Commerce, the Subcommittee on Health and Environment and Subcommittee on Crime.