2007 Report to the Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy


This is the United States Sentencing Commission’s fourth report to Congress on the subject of federal cocaine sentencing policy. The Commission submits this update pursuant to both its general statutory authority under 28 U.S.C. §§ 994-95 and its specific responsibility to advise Congress on sentencing policy under 28 U.S.C. § 995(a)(20). Congress has not acted on any of the various statutory recommendations set forth in the Commission’s prior reports and expressly disapproved the Commission’s guideline amendment addressing crack cocaine penalties submitted on May 1, 1995. (May 2007)

Key Findings

  • The current quantity-based penalties sweep too broadly and apply most often to lower level offenders and overstate the seriousness of most crack cocaine offenses.
  • The Commission strongly urges the Congress to act promptly and reject addressing the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio by decreasing the five-year and ten-year statutory mandatory minimum threshold quantities for powder cocaine offenses.
  • The majority of powder cocaine and crack cocaine offenders perform low-level trafficking functions, although there has been an increase since 2000 in the proportion of cocaine offenders identified as performing a wholesaler function.
  • 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.
  • Crack cocaine and powder cocaine are both powerful stimulants, and both forms of cocaine cause identical effects.  Both are addictive, and the negative effects of prenatal exposure to crack cocaine are identical to those of powder cocaine.