Press Release  | 05/28/2014

California Fair Sentencing Act to Eliminate the Disparities Between Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Passes out of the Senate Today With 21 Votes

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Four District Attorneys join in support of this important bill about justice and fairness

SACRAMENTO, CA — After passing through both the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Senate Appropriations along party lines, the California Fair Sentencing Act (SB 1010) authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), won approval on the Senate Floor vote in a 21-12 vote today.

Mitchell’s bill will correct the groundless disparity in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine that has resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and incarceration in California. SB 1010 now moves on to the Assembly for committee assignment in the second house.

“Our current law is discriminatory,” said Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “As one of only 12 states left in the country that maintains this unjust disparity in cocaine sentencing, I am eager to see Senator Mitchell’s bill gain swift approval in the Assembly.”

Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug. Scientific reports, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that they have nearly identical effects on the human body.  Crack cocaine is a product derived when cocaine powder is processed with an alkali, typically common baking soda.  Gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack cocaine than in powder cocaine.

According to intake data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, people of color account for over 98 percent of persons sent to California prisons for possession of crack cocaine for sale.  From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4 percent of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos accounted for 18.1 percent. Whites accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons in that five year period. Blacks make up 6.6 percent of the population in California; Latinos 38.2 percent, and whites 39.4 percent.

Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen noted in his official support letter that the current disparity in cocaine sentencing is, “It simply is not fair…We cannot pursue justice in the court room or solve crimes on the street, when people experience the laws as unfair and biased.” Furthermore, in addressing the suggestion by some that we merely increase the powder cocaine penalties to equalize the disparity, DA Rosen states, “In my professional opinion, there is simply no reason to increase the penalties for these crimes. As prosecutors, we have ample tools at our disposal to achieve just and effective sentences for those caught possessing or selling dangerous drugs,” Rosen wrote. Other district attorneys supporting the bill include Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey, San Francisco DA George Gascón and Santa Barbara DA Joyce Dudley.

“It’s time to end discriminatory sentencing for cocaine: whether possessed or sold as crack or as powder, it’s the same drug and violators should get the same treatment under the law,” said Senator Mitchell, a member of the Senate Public Safety Committee. “Let’s stop demonizing drug-use when committed in communities of color while minimizing consequences for the white-collar version.”

Mitchell’s bill is cosponsored by a dozen civil rights and criminal justice reform organizations across the state. Cosponsors include the Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU of California, A New Way of Life, California State Conference of the NAACP, Californians for Safety and Justice, California Public Defenders Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Ella Baker Center, Friends Committee on Legislation, National Council for La Raza, and the William C. Velasquez Institute. The California Fair Sentencing Act has garnering over 100 letters of support from across the state and the nation.

Contact: Lynne Lyman (213) 210-1023 or Tommy McDonald (510) 229-5215

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