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House Tackles Drug Law Disparities

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, R-North Branford.

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 white users.

"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 or Latino."

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 sell.

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 http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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