Judiciary Committee Reports Durbin's Fair Sentencing Act

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – A bipartisan bill to curtail the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine was unanimously reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee today by a vote of 19-0. The Fair Sentencing Act, introduced by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) was amended by the Judiciary Committee and will reduce the current 100:1 sentencing disparity to roughly 20:1.

“Drug use is a serious problem in America and we need tough legislation to combat it. But in addition to being tough, our drug laws must be smart and fair. Sadly our crack cocaine laws are not,” Durbin said. “I strongly support eliminating the crack-powder disparity and establishing the same sentences for crack and powder cocaine. But this is an issue that requires a bipartisan solution. Today’s historic agreement will make a significant difference in the lives of many while still keeping our drug laws tough.”

Under current law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine (roughly the weight of two sugar cubes) triggers a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while trafficking 500 grams (approximately one pound) of powder cocaine triggers the same sentence. The so-called 100:1 ratio has been in place since 1986. The Fair Sentencing Act as introduced would have completely eliminated the disparity, treating crack and powder cocaine equally.

Durbin negotiated today’s agreement with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to achieve a unanimous committee vote.

The language agreed to today would establish a roughly 20:1 ratio for crack-powder sentencing meaning a 28 grams of crack would trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine.

The compromise significantly increases fines for drug traffickers and mandates that the U.S. Sentencing Commission significantly increase enhancements for a number of aggravating factors. This tough new language would apply to all drug offenses and not just those involving crack or powder cocaine.