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Legislation equalizes drug penalties between crack and powdered cocaine  

Columbus, October 23, 2007: Members of the Ohio Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Senator Ray Miller (D – Columbus), which eliminates penalty distinctions between crack and powdered cocaine.

A bill to eliminate these distinctions has been introduced by African-American legislators for the past ten years. Senator Miller introduced a bill similar to SB 73 in 2005 during the 126th Ohio General Assembly. The impetus for the bill stems from crack cocaine being punished more harshly than powdered cocaine.

Crack is the name given to cocaine that has been processed, typically boiled, with baking soda or ammonia, and transformed into a smokable, “rock” form. In Ohio, the threshold amount for sentencing of powdered cocaine compared to crack cocaine is startling, ranging in ratios from 5-1 to 10-1. For example, the penalty threshold for less than 5 grams of powdered cocaine is equal to the penalty threshold for less than 1 gram of crack cocaine. The penalty threshold for 10 to 100 grams of powdered cocaine is equal to the penalty threshold for 5 to 10 grams of crack cocaine.

The disparity in punishment also exists in the federal system.

“The primary reason people use crack, versus powdered cocaine, is because it is more accessible and a less expensive derivative of cocaine,” said Miller. “Cocaine, regardless of whether it is crack cocaine or powdered cocaine, leads to the same physiological and behavioral effects.”

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction reports that of the 4,401 cocaine possession offenses, 3,758 are crack offenders but only 643 are powdered cocaine offenders. Of the 3,545 trafficking offenders for cocaine 2,939 are crack offenders and 606 are powdered cocaine offenders. Some believe that this penalty disparity discriminates against minorities.

“Ohio prisons are filled to capacity with young men who have gotten caught up in the drug culture of fast money, a quick high, and no regard for human life. But yet, those who are bursting the seams of Ohio’s prison system on drug related charges do not have the financial resources to purchase and transport large quantities of cocaine from South America into the United States . They don’t own planes, ships and other means to transport this cargo,” Miller said.

“Those who are transporting large amounts of powdered cocaine, using and selling this drug, which could potentially produce crack, are penalized much less harshly than if they were engaged with crack. This is a flawed system,” said Miller.  

“By voting Senate Bill 73 out of the Senate, we are helping to put an end to a policy which creates disparities in the criminal justice system, allows similarly situated drug offenders to be punished much differently, and does not follow the spirit of equity in the law,” Senator Miller concluded.






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