After more than a decade of debates, hearings and lobbying, the Senate has passed a bill to change the punishment for possession of crack cocaine.
The bill had strong support from both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. While the current law punishes crack users 100 times more heavily than powder cocaine users, the new Senate bill brings the 100-to-1 ratio down to 18-to-1.
What really got to me when I heard this on the radio this morning was the post hoc justification for this atrocious policy on the part of drug warriors:
Congress enacted these rules in the early 1990s, when crack was ravaging urban communities. In those days, Reggie Walton worked on drug policy in the first Bush administration. Back then he supported the sentencing disparity, but now he is a federal judge in Washington and feels differently.
"We believed it was a different chemical substance. [emphasis added] We now know that's not the case," Walton said. "The reality is that crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same chemical substance."
What, they didn't have analytical chemistry all the way back in the 1990s?
Look, making crack from powdered cocaine ain't a big mystery, folks. In fact, it's so easy, even a crackhead can do it! The end product consists of two major chemical constituents: 1) cocaine and 2) sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda). Separation and analysis of these molecules could be accomplished in a high school chemistry lab, never mind the fine professionals at the DEA.
Either Judge Walton is seriously misremembering the context in which this policy (which he has subsequently testified before Congress about) was made, or the policy was made without any serious inquiry as to the actual nature of this drug they rushed to legislate on. Come to think of it, I'm not sure which is worse. (Or more likely.)