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Obama Signs Law Shortening Crack Sentences
President Obama signed legislation on Tuesday reducing longstanding federal sentencing disparities between those caught with crack and those arrested with powder cocaine, finalizing a bipartisan consensus addressing a racially polarizing law enforcement debate.
Mr. Obama made no comments as he signed the bill, but during his 2008 presidential campaign, he said that the old law disproportionately affected young African-American and Hispanic drug users. In a speech last week, he said the new legislation would “help right a longstanding wrong” and was “the right thing to do.”
The legislation was a compromise reached by Democrats and Republicans who agreed that the old law imposed unduly harsh sentences for crack violations, which effected minorities in particular, compared with powder cocaine violations. The final bill was supported unanimously in the Senate and on a voice vote in the House, a rare moment where the parties have come together during Mr. Obama’s presidency.
Under the old law, a person caught with five grams of crack received a mandatory sentence of five years in prison, while a person caught with powder cocaine had to have 500 grams to merit the same term.The new law reduces the 100-to-1 disparity to 18-to-1. A crack defendant would have to have 28 grams to trigger the five-year mandatory minimum sentence, or roughly the amount that authorities presume would indicate a dealer rather than a casual user.
“By signing this reform into law, President Obama will save taxpayer money, reduce racial disparities and better prioritize federal law enforcement towards major crime syndicates instead of low-level offenders,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group.
Julie Stewart, founder and president of another group, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said the law “signals the beginning of new bipartisanship” that should lead to more reform, like extending the new rules to those already in prison. “The first test is whether Congress will finish the job on crack reform and apply the law retroactively,” she said.
This is a bitter sweet thing. On one hand I’m glad Obama seen that people were receiving outrageous convictions that were not justified whatsoever, but on the flip side I hope the hustlers don’t abuse this and start going crazy!