The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-220) was created to prevent sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine in federal drug crimes. Before the act was law, the sentences on federal drug crimes for crack cocaine compared to powder cocaine were huge. The solemnity of this injustice is hard to comprehend. The act did not create equality between the sentencing for what is the same drug. The ratio before the change in law was 100:1 and after the ratio is 18:1. While this difference is still unexplainable, the change does level the playing field for all defendants somewhat. The act also eliminated the federal five year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine in excess of five grams.
There is no scientific basis that crack cocaine and powder cocaine are different. However, the sentencing disparity speaks volumes. Statistically, defendants convicted of federal drug crimes involving crack cocaine are overwhelmingly african american compared to defendants convicted of powder cocaine who are predominantly caucasian. The only arguments made for the disparity is that crack cocaine has a devastating effect on large urban areas and powder cocaine has no such effect; of course, no proof of this statement exists. Law enforcement makes the second argument to fix the disparity by raising the sentencing range for powder cocaine to match crack cocaine thereby ending the disparity. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was estimated to reduce the prison population by over 1,500 inmates and save the US tax payers over $45 million from 2010 through 2015.
Many experts in the field suggest the disparity in itself lessens the credibility of the entire Drug Enforcement Agency in the United States. Many politicians and government leaders have suggested the entire disparity be wiped away and equality be granted for cocaine convictions including total retroactivity. As an aside, in the cases of United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005) and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), the US Supreme Court ruled the federal sentencing guidelines are advisory only. Accordingly, if no mandatories apply, a federal sentencing judge can eliminate the disparity by departing downward from the guidelines on crack cocaine and sentence the defendant as if it were powder cocaine.