One of the biggest scandals of the war on drugs is the way different people were charged for holding or using different substances. The most notorious example of this is seen with the difference between crack and powder cocaine. During the 1980s, a law was passed that sentenced people with crack cocaine at 100 times the rate of people with the same amount of powder cocaine. This has wrought havoc on the lives of some addicts in Tennessee.
Undoing the damage
Reform for this disparity came from one of the most unexpected places. The previous administration passed the First Step Act, which applied newer sentencing guidelines dating from the 2010s to some old sentences. This was a boon to criminal defense lawyers and their clients. However, activists and convicts were eager to see it applied to everyone retroactively. Many people are still languishing in prison based on being sentenced for crack in the 1980s and 1990s.
To that end, a lawsuit was filed that made its way to the Supreme Court. In a somewhat surprising decision, the court ruled unanimously that the First Step Act didn’t apply to all offenders. This was a disappointment to people like the plaintiff and many activists. However, one court justice noted that the issue could be addressed in Congress. All it would take is writing and passing a new act.
There is hope that sentencing guidelines for all drug offenders will change soon. As the justices noted, the language of the bill simply doesn’t support a broader reading of it. If you or a loved one has been affected by these guidelines around crack, keep watching the news. Consider reaching out to an attorney to see if a sentence may be eligible for reduction.