Gonzales on crack

The AG reveals a position on a nasty little corner of the drug war.

Published July 24, 2007 9:00PM (EDT)

Buried between his comments on torture memos and rousing sick old men from their hospital beds, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also managed to reveal a position on a controversial part of the drug war in his Senate hearing today. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., asked Gonzales about legislation he and three other senators have introduced that would bring more balance to the penalties for possession of crack and powder cocaine. (Because of guidelines set in the late 1980s, a person caught with just five grams of crack is subject to the same mandatory minimum sentence as someone caught with 500 grams of cocaine.)

"Has the Department of Justice taken a position on that as of this year?" asked Sessions.

Gonzales responded with this: "Personally, as I sit here today, I'd say that where we're at today is certainly reasonable. We think crack is more dangerous. It's related to, I think, addiction more quickly. It's more related to more dangerous crimes. The effects of it, I think, are more dangerous. So from a law enforcement perspective, it makes sense to have the kind of sentences that exist today."

But according to Michael S. Gelacek , who served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission from 1990-1998, the sentencing guidelines for crack versus powder cocaine were based on "bad information."

"There was a lot of association of crack to violence," Gelacek told PBS' Frontline. "But when we looked at it, what we found is what's true with any new drug that comes on the market. The violence that's associated with the drug is not people who use the drug going out and committing crimes on innocent bystanders, although some of that occurs. Most of the violent crimes associated with crack cocaine had to do with setting down trafficking patterns, and who was going to stand on what street corner. Once that settled out, the violence died down."

Gelacek said that the 100:1 powder to rock sentencing ratio was "plucked out of the air" after what he described as a "one-upsman contest between the House and the Senate -- who could be tougher on crack cocaine. And they both proved they could be very tough."

By Julia Dahl

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