ACLU Applauds Merrick Garland for Directive to End Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

December 16, 2022 4:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is instructing Department of Justice prosecutors to charge crack offenses as powder cocaine offenses, and to seek sentences for crack that are consistent with those for powder cocaine.

Attorney General Garland’s instruction is a bold move toward ending the 18:1 disparity that currently exists in federal sentencing laws — a disparity that punishes crack offenses with greater severity than offenses involving the same amount of powder cocaine.

The disparity between crack and powder cocaine, which are chemically identical, is a 36-year vestige of the racist war on drugs. This disparity was reduced from 100:1 to 18:1 in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

In response to the attorney general’s announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union issued the following statements:

Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU:

“We applaud Attorney General Merrick Garland for taking a step no other attorney general has taken, and moving to end a decades-long, unjustifiable, and racist policy.

“For 36 years, the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has fueled mass incarceration and devastated communities of color and Black families in particular, while failing to provide any public safety or public health benefit.

“Attorney General Garland’s actions today take a meaningful step toward addressing one of the most egregious policies created by the war on drugs.

“For decades, the ACLU has fought to end the unjust crack disparity and the larger failed war on drugs. We will not stop fighting the crack vs. powder disparity until Congress makes elimination permanent and retroactive, so that people prosecuted under past and future administrations will also be free of this racist policy.”

Cynthia W. Roseberry, acting director of the ACLU’s Justice Division:

“We are grateful to Attorney General Garland for taking this action. The guidance not only requires prosecutors to treat crack and powder the same way; it also gives prosecutors discretion to avoid bringing charges that would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence in any drug case. The attorney general’s guidance today will impact charging decisions in every federal court, and will also ensure a new level of transparency through data collection.

“The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is racist, was never based in sound policy, and has not improved public safety. Far from it — it is science fiction that has driven racial disparities, bloated our carceral system, and ruined thousands of lives.”

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