Crack and powder cocaine federal legislation: A sentencing disparity and potential for policy improvement

Zubin Segal, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Since its introduction into the United States in the 1980s, crack cocaine has been a harsh epidemic that has taken its toll on a countless number of people. This highly addictive, cheap and readily available drug of abuse has permeated many demographic sectors, mostly in low income, lesser educated, and urban communities. This epidemic of crack cocaine use in inner city areas across the Unites States has been described as an expression of economic marginality and “social suffering” coupled with the local and international forces of drug market economies (Agar 2003). As crack cocaine is a derivative of cocaine, it utilizes the psychoactive component of the drug, but delivers it in a much stronger, quicker, and more addictive fashion. This, coupled with its ready availability and cheap price has allowed for users to not only become very addicted very quickly, but to be subject to the stringent and sometimes unequal or inconsistent punishments for possession and distribution of crack-cocaine. There are many public health and social ramifications from the abuse of crack-cocaine, and these epidemics appear to target low income and minority groups. Public health issues relating to the physical, mental, and economic strain will be addressed, as well as the direct and indirect effects of the punishments that come as a result of the disparity in penalties for cocaine and crack-cocaine possession and distribution. Three new policies have recently been introduced into the United Stated Congress that actively address the disparity in sentencing for drug and criminal activities. They are, (1) Powder-Crack Cocaine Penalty Equalization Act of 2009, (HR 18, 111th Cong. 2009), (2) The Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009, (HR 265, 111th Cong. 2009) and (3) The Justice Integrity Act of 2009, (111th Cong. 2009). Although they have only been initiated, if passed, they have potential to not only eliminate the crack-cocaine disparity, but to enact laws that help those affected by this epidemic. The final and overarching goal of this paper is to analyze and ultimately choose the ideal policy that would not only eliminate the cocaine and crack disparity regardless of current or future state statutes, but will provide the best method of rehabilitation, prevention, and justice.

Subject Area

Law|Public health

Recommended Citation

Segal, Zubin, "Crack and powder cocaine federal legislation: A sentencing disparity and potential for policy improvement" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1462431.