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Robinson v. California

The Anti-drug Abuse Act Of 1986

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 would, during the 1990s, attract controversy due to the wide disparity between the penalties it placed on the distribution of crack cocaine as compared with those for powder cocaine. Because crack is less expensive than cocaine, and thus more popular among inner-city youths, critics charged that the establishment of the same penalty for selling one gram of crack as for selling 100 grams of cocaine was inherently racist.

At the center of the act were two tiers of mandatory prison terms for first-time drug traffickers. For what Congress called "serious offenders," or "the managers of the retail-level traffic," there was a mandatory minimum of five years. For "major traffickers," that is "the manufacturers or the heads of organizations who are responsible for creating and delivering very large quantities," the mandatory minimum was ten years. Differentiation between the levels of offense was based on quantity and type of drug being sold.

Though the act clearly seems to be imbalanced with regard to the penalties for crack and cocaine, there is little reason to believe that its sponsors were motivated by racism. Rather, the act happened to come to Congress's attention at a high point of national concern over drugs in general, crack in particular.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Robinson v. California - Decision, Significance, Cruel And Unusual Punishment, The Consequences, The Anti-drug Abuse Act Of 1986