The Slatest

California Eliminates Crack/Cocaine Sentencing Disparities

California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California has eliminated the legal distinction between cocaine and crack for purposes of criminal sentencing. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Sentencing Act on Sunday; the bill alters the state’s laws such that identical weights of “cocaine” and “cocaine base” (the legal term that often refers to crack) are treated the same. Previously, for example, individuals convicted of possessing at least 14.25 grams of cocaine base were subject to the same property forfeiture laws as those who possessed 28.5 grams of cocaine, while the law now applies only to those convicted of possessing at least 28.5 grams of either substance.

President Obama signed a similar revision to federal law in 2010, though that bill merely reduced and did not eliminate the cocaine/crack disparity.

The subtext of thse reforms, of course, is that while white Americans are much more likely to have used cocaine than black Americans, black Americans are much more often imprisoned for cocaine-related crimes—in part because blacks seem to use crack more often than whites and crack is more heavily criminalized than powder cocaine.