Congress passed a bill Wednesday that would narrow the disparity between mandatory sentences for crack and powder cocaine possession, changing a 24-year-old law that critics said unfairly subjected blacks to longer prison terms than whites.
The measure was approved by voice vote in the House and sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law, The Associated Press
reported. The bill made it through the Senate in March.
The legislation would overhaul a 1986 law that mandated a person convicted of crack cocaine possession get the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the same amount of cocaine in powder form. The bill passed Wednesday reduces that ratio to about 18-1, the AP said.
The original law was passed at the height of the crack epidemic, when it was assumed that rock cocaine was more dangerous than the regular form. Because crack was more prevalent in inner cities, blacks convicted of cocaine possession got much longer sentences than whites, who tended to prefer the powder.
The measure would also do away with the five-year mandatory minimum for first-time possession of crack. It's the first time in nearly 40 years that lawmakers have repealed a mandatory minimum sentence.
"For Congress to take a step toward saying 'we have made a mistake' and this sentence is too severe ... is really remarkable," Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project, told the AP.