Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today opposed S. 1789, a bill to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and cocaine powder. 

Ranking Member Smith: “In the 1980s, America faced an epidemic created by a new, more potent form of cocaine, known as crack.  Along with crack came guns and violence, which riddled many urban communities. In 1986, Congress enacted tough penalties to protect these neighborhoods and bring an end to the scourge of crack cocaine.  And the penalties helped make America’s communities safer.

“Now Congress is considering legislation to wind down the fight against drug addiction and drug-related violence. But reducing the penalties for crack cocaine could expose our neighborhoods to the same violence and addiction that caused Congress to act in the first place.

“Crack cocaine is associated with a greater degree of violence than most other drugs.  And more than any other drug, the majority of crack defendants have prior criminal convictions.  This is not an issue of one-time crack users being prosecuted for possession.  This is about people who perpetually peddled this dangerous drug and should pay the price for their actions. 

“Despite the devastating impact crack cocaine has had on American communities, this bill reduces the penalties for crack cocaine. 

“S. 1789 lowers the ratio for federal crack cocaine offenses from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1.  The bill also eliminates the mandatory penalties for crack cocaine possession, making it a misdemeanor under federal law. Why enact legislation that could endanger our children and bring violence back to our inner-city communities? 

“Proponents of reducing or eliminating the crack/powder ratio argue that crack penalties impact a larger number of minorities than powder cocaine penalties.  But, the percentage of minority defendants for federal crack and powder cocaine offenses is quite similar.  Eighty-two percent of crack offenders and 90% of powder cocaine offenders are minorities, though Black Americans comprise the majority of federal crack cocaine offenders.

“Crack and powder cocaine offenders are even sentenced with mandatory penalties at similar rates.  In 2009, 80% of crack cocaine offenders and 77% of powder cocaine offenders were convicted under a mandatory penalty statute.  

“We should not ignore the severity of crack addiction or ignore the differences between crack and powder cocaine trafficking.  We should worry more about the victims than about the criminals. 

“In addition to weakening penalties for drug offenses, Obama Administration has relaxed enforcement of marijuana laws.  The Democratic Party teeters on the edge of becoming the face of deficits, drugs and job destruction.

“Why would we want to reduce the penalties for crack cocaine trafficking and invite a return to a time when cocaine ravaged our communities, especially minority communities? I cannot support legislation that might enable the violent and devastating crack cocaine epidemic of the past to become a clear and present danger.”