May 11, 2005
By BILL LEUKHARDT, Courant Staff Writer
A harsh drug law passed
in 1987 to combat the violent urban crack cocaine trade should
be amended to impose equal penalties for possessing cocaine in
either powder or solid crack form, a divided House voted Tuesday.
By a 92-52 vote, state representatives approved a bill eliminating
disparities in the amount of crack and powder cocaine that trigger
the enhanced charges of possession with intent to sell.
Current law says anyone caught with 28 grams of powder cocaine
or 0.5 of a gram of crack cocaine - about the weight of half
a raisin - can be charged with intent to sell, a crime with a
mandatory minimum five-year sentence.
The proposal sets 28 grams - 1 ounce - as the amount of either
crack or powder cocaine someone must have to be charged with
intent to sell. The bill must be approved by the Senate and signed
by the governor to become law.
"This proposal will fix inequality in Connecticut law," said
state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford.
Opponents said all it will do is encourage drug use.
"Instead of making the streets safe, we've made them safe
for cocaine dealers," said Minority Leader Robert Ward,
Advocates said the proposal revises harsh laws that they say
have sent hundreds of minority group members to prison for having
tiny amounts of crack cocaine - a drug more likely sold in the
cities than the suburbs.
Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said the 1987 law, passed
after a spate of killings and shootouts by crack gangs, has done
little to decrease drug use.
But it has resulted in jail time for black and Latino cocaine
users, who he said are more likely to be sent to prison than
"Half of all drug suspects arrested are white. The other
half are minorities," Lawlor said. "But nine of every
10 people sent to jail on drug charges are either African American
Community groups that lobbied for the proposal praised lawmakers
for supporting the bill, sponsored by Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey,
D-Hartford, and Rep. Faith McMahon, D-Bloomfield.
"This disparity is destructive to communities of color
in particular," said Robert Rooks of the Connecticut Alliance,
a coalition of community organizations.
Rep. Robert Farr, R-West Hartford, sought in vain to amend the
bill to set a half-ounce threshold for the crime of intent to
His amendment was defeated in a 78-66 vote.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at