Two cheers for Fair Sentencing Act: Equality for rock and powder cocaine won’t help end the War on Drugs

The disparity between criminal sentencing for crack and powder cocaine was quite heinous; young black men carrying a rock or two got prison while young white men with a gram or two got probation. And that went on for years in this country.

President Obama recently signed the Fair Sentencing Act, aligning crack and powder cocaine punishment. That solves a severe inequity, but it does nothing to solve the underlying problem: The desperate need for adequate treatment for  people addicted to either crack or powder. Until we provide universal treatment until recovery for all who need it, the failed War on Drugs continues.

The necessity for drug treatment is obvious from the serious public health and safety threats caused by drug abuse that are completely separate from criminal sentencing issues. For example, frequent use of illegal drugs increases the likelihood of domestic violence. Another problem is drugged driving, and the fact that drug-using teens are at nearly three times greater risk for suicide. And we all know about the transmission of HIV and hep B and C. Overall quality of life is much worse for substance abusers. No matter the criminal penalties, these and many other health and safety threats are caused by drug abuse and dependence. But adequate treatment until recovery could have a profound effect; it’s shown to reduce many types of criminal behavior other than drug possession and to improve quality of life.


Fair Sentencing Act signed: Now how about regs on drug treatment for all who need it as part of health care reform?


What we need is a health system where everyone who comes to primary, emergency or other medical settings and presents symptoms of substance dependence or abuse is assessed and referred for proper treatment. Then, proper treatment continues until the patient achieves recovery. Anything less continues the War on Drugs mentality. Until we truly begin treating all substance abuse and addiction as health issues, we will always be treating them like a crime.

Unfortunately, our country is decimating drug and alcohol treatment right now. Google “budget cuts drug treatment” and the results will truly depress you. Substance abuse treatment  cuts are particularly hitting state prisons. We’ll never break the cycle this way. We’re going backward from where we were a decade ago.

Aligning crack and powder cocaine penalties was important, but it was a fairness issue. It corrected an injustice. It did not correct the basic problem underlying the failed War on Drugs that we still don’t treat substance addiction and abuse as health problems.


And this was in 2007! It's probably worse today. Another severe inequity that needs to be fixed.


This entry was posted in Drug abuse, Healthcare reform, Parity, Recovery, Substance abuse, Treatment and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Two cheers for Fair Sentencing Act: Equality for rock and powder cocaine won’t help end the War on Drugs

  1. Dude says:

    I agree with a lot of what you say, BUT, the problem is that you put Cannabis among the harder drugs, or maybe I misread you?

    • jgogek says:

      You will need to read the research. It’s not me who includes marijuana when testing the impact of drugs, it’s the researchers. You can try to counter their findings, I guess. And there really is no such thing — to the brain — as harder or softer drugs. There is only differing effects.

  2. John Byrom says:

    While I know most prison treatment programs have been cut, the truth is when they were in place they were voluntary programs. So to say all these prisoners didn’t recieve treatment is misleading. A lot of them didn’t want to recieve treatment.

    • jgogek says:

      That’s true, but this whole issue of voluntary vs. involuntary treatment shows me that drug treatment is still far away from the public health model. When you go to a doctor with diabetes or hypertension, he or she doesn’t say to you, do you want treatment? The doctor simply begins treatment. Eventually, we need to do the same with addiction.

      • rachelrachel says:

        “When you go to a doctor with diabetes or hypertension, he or she doesn’t say to you, do you want treatment? The doctor simply begins treatment.”

        I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here.

        When I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, the doctor prescribed some medication, and referred me to a dietician and to a diabetes educator. I was perfectly free to decide I didn’t want to follow the doctor’s advice, to go to a different doctor, to seek a second opinion, etc. I could even decide I didn’t need any treatment at all. There are plenty of reference sites on the internet that could help me make up my mind whether I agreed with his recommended course of action.

        Nobody asked me, “Do you want treatment?” but, like any reasonably well informed consumer of the health care system, I knew that the choice was up to me to follow his advice or not.

        Nobody “just began treatment.”

        If you think we should treat addiction the same way, get rid of the drug courts and the coerced treatment and operate things according to the principle of informed consent, then I’m all with you.

  3. Carly says:

    Yup, that’ll do it. You have my arppeictaion.

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