1995 Report to the Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy


This is the United States Sentencing Commission’s first report to Congress on the subject of federal cocaine sentencing policy. Congress directed the United States Sentencing Commission to study federal sentencing policy as it relates to possession and distribution of all forms of cocaine. Specifically, Congress directed the Sentencing Commission to report on the current federal structure of differing penalties for powder cocaine and crack cocaine offenses and to provide recommendations for retention or modification of these differences. (February 1995)

Key Findings

  • Although powder cocaine and crack cocaine are two forms of the same drug, much data collected does not distinguish these two forms.
  • Crack cocaine has only been on the market a relatively short period of time, research that might more fully address outstanding concerns has not yet occurred. Accordingly, given the current information gap, policymakers must draw conclusions cautiously.
  • The quantity and form of cocaine involved in an offense are two factors for determining appropriate punishment, but in a given case other characteristics of the offense and the offender can be equally or more important. The guidelines should be refined to address better those harms that prompted Congress to establish the 100-to-1 quantity ratio.
  • Rather than propose a specific statutory change in the current 100-to-1 quantity ratio, the Sentencing Commission recommends that the guidelines system be revised to further the purposes of sentencing and to address congressional concerns.
  • There may need to be congressional reconsideration of the dramatic distinction in simple possession penalties for crack versus powder cocaine and other drugs.