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October 24, 2007

Ohio moving toward crack/powder equality by raising sentences

This local article, entitled "Ohio Senate equalizes penalties for crack, powdered cocaine," spotlights that cocaine sentencing equality is politically feasible if it involves raising sentences. Here are the highlights:

Those nabbed with powdered cocaine would face the same harsh penalties as those caught with crack cocaine, under a bill passed unanimously by the Ohio Senate on Tuesday. 

Legislation ending the racially loaded distinction between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine has been sought by Ohio's black delegation at the Statehouse over the past decade. What tipped the scales in favor of this bill this session was a "broader understanding" that the drug problems in Ohio extend beyond city street corners, said the bill's sponsor.  Also, the bill was tweaked to bring up the penalties for powdered cocaine rather than ratchet down the penalties for crack cocaine....

"We've got a growing problem in our rural areas of the state, and many of these members are well aware of the problem," said State Sen. Ray Miller, a Columbus Democrat who sponsored the bill. "Fundamentally, equalizing the penalties at a higher level as opposed to bringing them down was key to passage," Miller said.

Under current state law, penalties for crack cocaine are far harsher than those for powdered cocaine. For example, a person caught with only 25 grams of crack can be convicted of a first-degree felony, while it requires at least 500 grams of powdered cocaine to face the same sanctions. Urban lawmakers have long contended the distinction was racially and economically biased, as the state's crack-cocaine problem is largely based in poor and minority areas.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati-area Republican, voted for the bill but said he was concerned by a nonpartisan analysis that put costs of additional incarceration at $25 million or more per year from the harsher penalties. "That's real money," he said. "And that's what happens when we equalize penalties at a higher rate."

October 24, 2007 at 07:19 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Warms the cockles of my heart. Besides, most people in Ohio would be better off paying more taxes because their lives would not be enriched if they had the money to spend on creature comforts, healthcare, or education.

Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 24, 2007 8:24:49 AM

This is why I hate politicians. It makes me wonder why i'm majoring in political science.

Posted by: EJ | Oct 24, 2007 11:48:21 AM

Political science would be a much better subject if it wasn't dumbed down to attract people from other majors. The smarter ones from PS go to law school, everyone else works at Starbucks.

Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 24, 2007 12:46:06 PM

"Fundamentally, equalizing the penalties at a higher level as opposed to bringing them down was key to passage."

Which is precisely why our draconian laws are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Even a Republican who expressed concerns about the costs to the state voted for the idiotic measure. I thought drug use rates were down; that would seem an appropriate time to lower crack cocaine sentences to mirror their coke counterparts (or, in my fantasy, abolish the laws altogether).

It would be interesting to know how many of these cases are kicked over to the DOJ when they land in the laps of local prosecutors. A guy with 500 grams of cocaine is looking at 51-63 months under the guidelines, but a 3-10 year sentence for the commission of a first degree felony under OH law. If the local DAs could convince the feds to take a bunch of cases they could just pass off those costs from their state's residents onto the rest of us.

Posted by: Alec | Oct 24, 2007 8:20:49 PM

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