2002 Report to the Congress: Federal Cocaine Sentencing Policy


The purpose of this report is to contribute to the ongoing assessment of federal cocaine sentencing policy by Congress and others in the federal criminal justice system. This report updates and supplements much of the research and data presented in the United States Sentencing Commission’s 1995 Special Report to Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy and referred to in the Commission’s 1997 Special Report to Congress:Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy. (May 2002)


Key Findings

  • The current penalties exaggerate the relative harmfulness of crack cocaine and apply most often to lower level offenders.
  • The Commission strongly believes that Congress and the Commission, informed by updated research and data and making use of the sentencing guideline system’s capacity to account for variations in offender culpability and offense seriousness, should work together  to revise federal cocaine sentencing policy.
  • The majority of powder cocaine offenses and crack cocaine offenses do not involve aggravating conduct, such as weapon involvement, bodily injury, and distribution to protected persons or in protected locations. However, the proportion of cases involving some aggravating conduct has increased since 2000 for both types of cocaine offenses.
  • The Commission recommends that Congress generally adopt a three-pronged approach for revising federal cocaine sentencing policy:  (1) increase the five-year mandatory minimum threshold quantity for crack cocaine offenses; (2) provide direction for more appropriate sentencing enhancements within the guidelines’ structure that target the most serious drug offenders; and (3) maintain the current mandatory minimum threshold quantities for powder cocaine offenses.