This is Your Government on Drugs

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In their ongoing quest to achieve “equity” in every facet of society, the Biden-Harris administration, along with a surprisingly diverse group of bipartisan legislators have shamelessly backed the EQUAL Act (Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law), which seeks to abolish all remaining sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine.

In her June 22 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Regina LaBelle, Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, declared, “The Biden-Harris Administration strongly supports eliminating the current disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.  The current disparity is not based on evidence yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families, and communities of color. The continuation of this sentencing disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end.”  Absent, of course, is any mention of the significant harm (i.e., crime, violence, addiction and death), caused by the use and trafficking of the drugs themselves, then or now.

But since we’re currently in the throes of a drug overdose epidemic — increasingly driven by stimulants and not merely opioids — while simultaneously watching record levels of cocaine production in South America that is increasingly smuggled into the U.S. across our Southern border, a little history lesson is in order.

Much like today, in 2010, Congress capitulated to the racial demagogues demanding an end to “racist” crack laws that delineated punishment pursuant to a 100:1 crack/powder cocaine ratio and ultimately changed the math to a “fairer” 18:1.  Under the previous law, possession of five grams of crack — which, due to its chemical nature and typical dosage for use, meant possession with intent to distribute — the offender was subject to a minimum mandatory sentence of five years.

The harsh penalties enacted by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, sponsored by Senator Joe Biden, was a direct reflection of skyrocketing addiction rates among ever-increasing numbers of crack users, mostly in the inner cities, along with the “astoundingly violent activity” that became, according to New York University Professor Mark Kleiman, the intertwining hallmark of crack dealing, as it “spread from city to city by gangs such as the Crips and Bloods, leaving a trail of carnage behind it.”  The original law was not only in response to the demand of African American communities plagued by the new scourge to do something, it also incontrovertibly had near-universal support from African American members of Congress who saw for themselves the horrific effects the crack trade wrought in the neighborhoods they represented.

With the advent of crack and the realities of its “intense addictive quality” and “availability,” Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont admitted that the drug and its attendant violence was “sweeping the nation.”  Congress acted swiftly, decisively, and nearly unanimously.  It proffered five justifications for the 100:1 ratio: (1) the addictive quality of crack cocaine, (2) that crack cocaine was associated with violent crime, (3) that the use of crack cocaine among pregnant women posed threats to children in utero, (4) that more young people were using crack cocaine, and (5) that the low cost of crack cocaine made it especially prevalent and more likely to be consumed in large quantities.  The legislation also provided $1.1 billion for law enforcement agencies, of which roughly one-fourth went directly to state and local departments that were attempting to shoulder the new civic onslaught.  It also provided a smattering of educational and drug research grants, along with exponentially expanded drug treatment programs totaling $675 million. It is curious that rarely does one hear wailings from the left about the “failed drug treatment programs” which local, state and federal governments, along with private institutions, have thrown at the problem with such compassionate zeal, and equally compassionate funding, over the years with such disappointing results.

Obviously, the 100:1 ratio had caused a perceived disproportionate effect upon black Americans.  To the uneducated and/or the racially motivated, such disparities would seem to indicate a prima facie case for “racist” law.  But, as we can clearly observe, our prisons are filled not with drug users, but drug dealers and their violent associates.

Unlike powder cocaine, or most other drugs for that matter, the distribution of crack is accomplished by what can be described as a broad, flat and nonhierarchical multitude of individual retail distributors.  There are virtually no multikilogram crack dealers.  There are essentially no crack kingpins.  Small, independent operators purchase powder cocaine and rock it up easily and quickly with ammonia or baking soda, usually at ounce-or-less quantities at a time, sell what they have in small vial or baggie user amounts, and then begin the process again.  Second, and more importantly, their distribution methods are in most cases highly flagrant, taking place in open-air street markets or in wretchedly appropriated “crack houses.”

Indiscriminate violence and mayhem tends to accompany the intensely contested markets.  For this very reason, for law enforcement to have any meaningful impact upon the crack plague, it was altogether necessary to specifically tailor the laws against retail-level amounts.  This was not racist; it was prudent.  The legislation, however blunt or proportionally “unfair,” was designed to degrade the numbers and capabilities of the parasitic and highly violent drug dealers preying upon their very own neighborhoods.  In this regard, crack laws in the 1980s achieved a level of success, though not completely, in protecting entire communities from destruction. 

In the decade that was the 1990s, crack laws helped usher in diminishing cocaine use and record-breaking reductions in crime; a 40 percent decrease nationwide and, quite astonishingly, a drop of 80 percent in New York City.  The most dramatic benefits concentrated in inner city neighborhoods where mothers previously had to put their children to sleep in bathtubs to protect them against stray bullets.  In fact, Heather Mac Donald has dramatically pointed out that, due to the reduction in violence associated with the drug trade, “over ten thousand minority males are alive today who would have been killed had homicide remained at its earlier levels.”  Thus is the positive power of the law, employed through decisive policing, against a socially destructive and predatory subculture intent on the victimization of others.

Thanks to the effective application of comprehensive drug policy, which included the fair and necessary enforcement of our laws, cocaine use in the United States dramatically declined over a nearly three decade-long stretch.  Only a tiny percentage of Americans 12 years or older now report using the drug.  With a fraction of those being black, and a further fraction of those involving crack cocaine, is this not evidence that an addiction to ethnocentric narratives is the larger problem in exacerbating destructive drug-related behaviors in our country?

But as cocaine use and overdose trends continue to increase across America commensurate with expanding drug production and trafficking mostly attributed to the increasingly powerful and emboldened Mexican drug cartels, these hard-fought gains are quickly being erased.  So, too, are the lowered crime rates that are now rising to levels even surpassing the peak crack year of 1993, which, not coincidentally, also represented the nation’s peak homicide year.  To purposefully ignore the lessons of our own recent history, as well as the law enforcement experts who understand the complexities of drug-related violence on the mean streets of America, in order to singularly pursue a utopian “equity” will surely end as a foolish — and deadly — illusion.

Jeff Stamm is a 34-year law enforcement veteran, having served as a Deputy Sheriff in Sacramento County, California and a Special Agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He is also the author of On Dope: Drug Enforcement and The First Policeman.

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