(The Center Square) – U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced a bill last week that would raise the amount of powder cocaine and lower the amount of crack cocaine that triggers five-year and 10-year mandatory minimum sentences.
Currently, the amount of crack cocaine that triggers five-year sentences is 18 times that of powder cocaine that triggers those sentences in federal courts. The Start Making Adjustments and Require Transparency in Cocaine Sentencing Act (SMART) would reduce the ratio to 2.5:1.
“This sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders has had a disparate impact on communities of color across the country,” a news release from Grassley’s office said. “Reducing this disparate impact is critical, but must be thoughtfully enacted to prevent likely reoffenders from returning to communities just to violate the law again.”
Grassley cosponsored the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the ratio from 100:1 to 18:1 and authored the 2018 First Step Act, which enabled people imprisoned for crack offenses to apply for resentencing.
“Our legislation will significantly reduce this disparity while ensuring those more likely to reoffend face appropriate penalties,” Grassley said. “Powder cocaine is being trafficked across the border in historic volumes, so we also need to take precautions that ensure these traffickers also face justice for spreading poison through our communities.”
Under the bill, an attorney general would be required to review and certify any retroactive sentencing adjustments.
Within a year of the bill’s passage, governmental agencies would need to report on the lethality and addictiveness of cocaine and document what violence is associated with cocaine-related crimes. The government would also make recommendations to Congress.
A January 2022 USSC analysis indicated crack cocaine offenders recidivate at the highest rate of any drug type, 60.8%, while powder cocaine offenders recidivate at the lowest rate of any drug type, 43.8%.
Crack cocaine offenders were the most likely drug offenders to carry deadly weapons during offenses, USSC data indicates.
“These statistics show the need for a close look at all available government data before we consider an approach to flatten sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses,” the release said.
Iowa’s U.S. Representatives in the House helped a bipartisan bill, the EQUAL Act, pass in fall 2021 to permanently end the sentencing disparities. However, Grassley told reporters last fall that he did not anticipate that bill would pass in the Senate, Quad-City Times reported.
His office said in the release that another Senate bill, which would remove sentencing disparities altogether, does not account for differences in recidivism rates associated with the two types of cocaine offenses.
U.S. Senators Mike Lee, R-Utah, Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, joined Grassley in introducing the bill.