Judiciary Committee Reaches Milestone Agreement on Drug Law Reform

Press Release

By:  Lindsey Graham Chuck Grassley Jeff Sessions III John Cornyn Thomas Coburn Orrin Hatch
Date: March 12, 2010
Location: Washington, DC

The Fair Sentencing Act, supported by every Republican senator, was approved yesterday unanimously by the Judiciary Committee and follows years of effort from Republicans on the committee to responsibly and effectively reform existing laws on crack sentencing and enforcement. Yesterday's committee action was the result of a significant bipartisan compromise to address the disparity between sentencing for crack and cocaine violations.

The compromise legislation would increase the amount of crack cocaine needed to trigger a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence from 5 grams to 28 grams in cases of possession with intent to distribute. 28 grams, or about one ounce, is a common threshold for prosecution of drug distribution cases. For cases subject to a 10-year mandatory sentence, the penalties were also modified from 50 grams to 280 grams. Simple possession of crack would no longer be subject to a mandatory prison term, bringing the treatment of crack in line with that of other narcotics.

Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said, "I have long believed that we need to bring greater balance and fairness to our drug sentencing laws. But I have also maintained that a guiding principle of that effort must be that we not place any obstacles in front of the police officers and prosecutors fighting every day to keep our communities and their residents safe. Through this change in the thresholds for mandatory minimum sentences, we will be able to achieve needed fairness without impeding our ability to combat drug violence and protect victims. This important bipartisan agreement would strengthen our justice system, and I hope the full Senate will consider and act on this proposal."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, "I'm proud to have been a part in a bipartisan effort to end the federal sentencing disparity for crack cocaine. The 20-to-1 ratio that was agreed to yesterday is a fair and balanced way of tackling this dangerous drug without sacrificing law enforcement's efforts. This approach was put forward by President Reagan in 1986 when crack decimated communities across the country. I'm pleased the Judiciary Committee has taken action."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said, "This bipartisan agreement is a step in the right direction and long overdue. Congress should act without any more delay to start to reduce the sentencing disparity for possession of these illegal drugs."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, "When this was passed, Congress felt that crack cocaine was a plague that was destroying minority communities. Over time we have seen that this policy, while well-intentioned, also created negative unintended consequences. Through the years, we have seen a significant number of African-American males sentenced to longer prison sentences for possessing crack cocaine instead of powder. The law created inequities. And now, I am glad we are finding a balance that recognizes and addresses the problem. We are working and will continue to work to roll back the injustice that was done. This is a good example of where Senators actually listened to one another, recognized there was a problem, and worked together to address it in a productive fashion."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said, "This bipartisan bill will make sure our law enforcement resources are directed where they're needed most. It updates the law, making it fairer, by reforming the sentencing disparity that has developed over the years. We have made great strides in the war on drugs in recent years, but Congress must remain vigilant in addressing current drug problems, such as the stark increase in use of powder cocaine."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said, "This common-sense agreement will help correct longstanding inequities in crack sentencing without undermining law enforcement. I'm pleased members of both sides of aisle were able to come together and reach a compromise that, I believe, will serve our communities. I urge the full Senate to enact this proposal without delay."

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