The law "established a 100-to-1 disparity between distribution of powder and crack cocaine," the report points out. Distributing just five grams of crack gets you five years in federal prison. To get the same sentence for powder cocaine, you'd have to distribute 500 grams -- a metric pound.
The mandatory sentencing law for crack cocaine has been used to fill the federal prisons with African-Americans.
Recent data indicates that African Americans make up 15 percent of the country’s drug users, yet they make up 37 percent of those arrested for drug violations, 59 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense. More than 80 percent of the defendants sentenced for crack offenses are African American, despite the fact that more than 66 percent of crack users are white or Hispanic.African-Americans on the average get an almost 50 per cent longer sentence for possessing the same amount of the drug as other ethnic groups, the report points out.
Most of those filling the federal prisons are small time users or street corner dealers. The law has not been effective against major distributors. It has not made a dent in the wholesale side of the supply pipeline for the illicit drug.
A summary of the ACLU report is here. Full text here. Good audio segment on NPR here.
The Health Care Blog calls the 20-year old crack law "possibly the worst single bill ever passed by Congress." Source.