Before the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in the United States in 2010, possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine, or 500 grams of powder cocaine, constituted a felony offense—a 100-to-1 disparity. After the passage of the act, possession of 28 grams of crack cocaine constituted a felony offense (or 500 grams of power cocaine, as before)—an 18-to-1 disparity.

Disparities in the treatment of crack and powder cocaine are frequently talked about as being racially motivated, I suppose because black drug users favor crack cocaine and white drug users favor powder cocaine (or at least, the groups are thought to favor the respective drugs; I have no data).

Obviously, no one is going to justify the disparity between crack and powder cocaine on racial grounds. What are the arguments in favor of the current 18-to-1 disparity in the law? Does crack have a greater psychotropic effect per gram? Is there a difference in price, which the law is trying to compensate for?

  • 2
    My understanding is that crack is simply a safer and cheaper way to create freebase cocaine, allowing it to be smoked. This is a faster and potentially more efficient way to ingest it. On a side note, drug laws don't typically account for this kind of thing. For example, with LSD, the weight of the medium is considered so a gram of sugar with minuscule mount of drug on it is considered equivalent to a gram of pure drug.
    – JimmyJames
    May 18, 2017 at 14:53
  • There are arguments for anything, aren't there? People manage to justify nearly anything. I think this is too broad of a question.
    – user1530
    May 18, 2017 at 15:47
  • I'm not actually going to edit the question to ask specifically for good or legitimate arguments; I think context will make it clear for most people.
    – adam.baker
    May 19, 2017 at 3:50
  • How do you know it's racially motivated? Is there any way to know?
    – user4951
    Mar 10, 2018 at 21:20

1 Answer 1


Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) opposed the Fair Sentencing Act with

I cannot support legislation that might enable the violent and devastating crack cocaine epidemic of the past to become a clear and present danger.

U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics shows that 29% of all crack cases from October 1, 2008, through September 30, 2009, involved a weapon, compared to only 16% for powder cocaine. USN That may matter.

  • 7
    This is the epitome of irrelevant correlation. The use of a weapon in a crime is already accounted for in the punishment of that crimes. Why should people who don't use a weapon in the crime be punished simply because of some statistical correlation?
    – JimmyJames
    May 18, 2017 at 14:39
  • 3
    It's a terrible argument, but the OP wasn't actually asking for legitimate arguments, so this actually answers the question.
    – user1530
    May 18, 2017 at 15:48
  • 1
    @jjdb a bad argument can often be used in both directions. :)
    – user1530
    May 18, 2017 at 15:55
  • 1
    @blip You kind of have a point here but as far as we can tell this argument was first posited here. The answer to the original question might very well be "no, there isn't" other than "crack is bad".
    – JimmyJames
    May 18, 2017 at 20:36
  • 1
    @JimmyJames yes, I agree. The problem is that the question is mostly a semantic one. What does "possible" mean? I can argue the earth is flat. It's a possible argument--a ridiculous and incorrect one--but possible.
    – user1530
    May 18, 2017 at 20:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .