Legislature passes Mitchell bill equalizing crack and powder cocaine penalties

August 22, 2014

SACRAMENTO, CA — California’s Legislature, after several previous failed attempts, is finally sending Governor Brown a bill by Senator Holly J. Mitchell that would equalize sentences and fines for intent-to-sell crack and powder cocaine convictions. Currently crack-related sentences range from three to five years in current state law, but for powder only two to four years. Although the effects of cocaine intoxication do not differ significantly whether in the form of crack or powder, convictions in low income and minority communities for crack are much more common, crack being substantially cheaper than powder, resulting in disproportionately high percentages of minorities serving time on cocaine-related charges. If the Governor signs SB 1010 by September 30, the difference in sentencing, fines and probation for low level powder and crack cocaine offenses would be eliminated in law.

Last week the Assembly approved Senator Mitchell’s bill by a bipartisan 50-19, sending it back to the Senate for concurrence as several new co-authors added their names to the bill before passing it.

“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.” 

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.