Will lowered federal penalties for crack cocaine be retroactive?

By Victoria Frayre

Imagine being sentenced to prison for life for possession of crack cocaine and then one day being given the possibility of a reduced sentence or possibly even an eventual release. How would this change your life and the lives of your family and friends?

This could be an eventual reality for thousands of prisoners currently serving disproportionately longer sentences for possession of crack cocaine as compared to those caught with powder cocaine.

Previously, a person caught with powder cocaine would have to possess 100 times as many grams as a person caught with crack cocaine to receive the exact same mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

After over a decade of debate and numerous studies, the question as to which form of cocaine is “worse” (and therefore further criminalized) can be put to rest. A general consensus among politicians has finally been reached. It is now admitted that crack cocaine and powder cocaine are pharmacologically identical and should consequently be criminalized more equally.

A landmark congressional decision could make the new Fair Sentencing Act retroactive and reduce sentences for around 12,000 prisoners. This change in policy would not only benefit the lives of those who would otherwise waste away in some prison cell, but also allows Congress to use the supposed billions of dollars saved by making the law retroactive in more productive ways.

Is this just some dynamic attempt at lowering the national deficit, or does the federal government genuinely care about the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been affected by the War on Drugs?

Victoria Frayre is serving this summer as a Friends of Justice intern and will soon graduate from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas with a degree in applied sociology.