SACRAMENTO- The Assembly Appropriations Committee passed AB 2274 (Dymally) Wednesday with 12 votes from moderate and liberal Democratic lawmakers. The bill equalizes the punishment for possession with intent to sell "crack" cocaine and powder cocaine.
Today's hearing in the Assembly fiscal committee focused on the $65 million savings to California by removing the disparity in sentencing, as well as the racial inequities in the current sentencing guidelines. Current California law sentences "crack" dealers for 3-5 years, while powder cocaine dealers receive 2-4 years. The bill removes the one-year disparity by conforming the sentence to 2-4 years. African Americans, who comprise 6.4% of the state population, make up 66.5% of convictions for possession of cocaine base ("crack") for sale.
Drug Policy Alliance, a national reform organization sponsored the bill, authored by Mervyn Dymally of Compton. Civil Rights organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and National Council of La Raza support the legislation.
When asked about the likelihood of Assembly passage of a potentially controversial drug sentencing bill, Simeon Gant of the Drug Policy Alliance sounded optimistic, "We passed two committees. Thus far 14 legislators have voted for the bill--moderate and liberal, men and women, black, white, Latino and Asian American. The logic of the bill is unimpeachable, and our momentum is building."
The entire 80-member Assembly will hear the bill presented by the bill's author, Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) next month. If the bill is passed by the Assembly, it must pass the Senate before being sent to Governor Schwarzenegger.
76 year old Assembly member Dymally served in Congress for two decades, where he witnessed the unwillingness of legislators to even debate the recommendations of the Federal Sentencing Commission and civil rights groups that recommended that the penalties for crimes involving the two forms cocaine should be made equal, due to a clear pattern of racial inequity in prison terms.
Referring to his colleagues in the Congress, Dymally blasted, "They didn't even hear the bill. We have unequal justice with more severe punishments being meted out to African Americans. It's stupid, it's racist and it's costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. It cannot stand."
Most states, 37 in all, do not differentiate between cocaine base and cocaine powder. Studies published by the Journal of the American Medical Society and other publications state that there are no significant differences in effect between the two forms.
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