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Congress Moves Closer to Blocking Crack Amendments


November 1995

Congress appears to be ready to block the U.S. Sentencing Commission amendments to equalize the penalties for crack and powder cocaine from taking effect.

On September 29, 1995, the Senate passed S. 1254, a bill to disapprove the U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines amendments on crack cocaine sentencing (including severe enhancements for using weapons or inflicting harm in the course of a drug offense) and money laundering. The bill included an amendment offered by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) directing the Sentencing Commission to submit to Congress recommendations for changes in the statutes and Guidelines regarding cocaine offenses. The recommendations must reflect a number of "considerations." The crack-powder ratio shall be revised "in a manner consistent with the ratios set for other drugs." The bill also calls for the Justice Department to submit a report to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees on the charging and plea practices of federal prosecutors with respect to money laundering offenses.

The House Judiciary Committee has reported H.R. 2259, a bill to disapprove the amendments on crack cocaine sentencing and money laundering (House Report 104-272). The House version would reject the part of the amendment to equalize sentences but would retain weapons enhancements for all drug cases. Thus sentences would be even longer. A staffer at the Subcommittee on Crime told NewsBriefs they are considering ("thinking through") the Senate version and the political situation.

In other news on cocaine sentencing, Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-MI) introduced S. 1253, which would reduce the amount of powder cocaine necessary to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. Under the bill, 100 grams of powder cocaine would trigger a 5-year mandatory -- it takes 500 grams to trigger that sentence now. The trigger for the 10-year mandatory would be reduced from 5 kg to 1 kg. This would increase the number of lower mid-level traffickers subject to mandatory sentences by more than 2000 according to preliminary U.S. Sentencing Commission data obtained by NewsBriefs. High level traffickers would be unaffected. The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Richard Shelby (D-AL).