Assembly passes Holly Mitchell bill equalizing crack and powder cocaine penalties

August 15, 2014

SACRAMENTO, CA —A version of measure to equalize penalties for illegal crack and powder cocaine has been approved by both chambers of California’s Legislature. 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 Assembly floor vote was a bipartisan 50-19, sending the bill back to the Senate for concurrence.

“We must break the drug-driven cycle of arrest, lock-up, unemployability and re-arrest ,” said Senator Mitchell, (D-Los Angeles). “The law isn’t supposed to be a pipeline that disproportionately channels the young, urban and unemployed toward jail and joblessness.” 

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.

“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 Mitchell, who chairs California’s Legislative Black Caucus. “My bill establishes fairness in sentencing.”

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.