Holly Mitchell bill equalizing crack and powder cocaine penalties passes Senate

May 28, 2014

SACRAMENTO, CA — A measure to equalize penalties for illegal crack and powder cocaine has been approved by California’s Senate. Sentences for intent-to-sell crack convictions range from three to five years in current state law, but for powder only two to four years. Crack convictions in low income and minority communities are more common because crack is cheaper than powder. SB 1010 would eliminate the difference in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture rules for low level powder and crack cocaine offenses.

The Senate floor vote was 21-12, along party lines, sending the bill to the Assembly.

“Whether sold as crack or powder, used on the street or in a corporate penthouse, the penalty for cocaine use should be the same for everybody,” said Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-South Los Angeles), chair of California’s Legislative Black Caucus. “My bill establishes fairness in sentencing and will help stanch the flow of young ex-cons into a pipeline of permanent unemployment.”

Crack and powder cocaine have been found to have substantially the same effects on users. But people of color are far more likely to be convicted and serve time for crack: between 2005 and 2010, Blacks accounted for 77% of state sentences for possession of crack for sale, Latinos accounted for 18% and Caucasians accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons on cocaine-related charges.

Mitchell’s bill is cosponsored by numerous organizations, including 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.