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Missouri lawmakers trim disparity in drug sentences

Friday, May 18, 2012 | 3:08 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers pushed through a measure Friday that would reduce the disparity in prison sentences between people convicted of crack and powder cocaine crimes.

Currently, people convicted of producing, distributing or possessing more than 2 grams of crack in Missouri face the same prison sentences as those convicted of similar offenses involving more than 150 grams of powder cocaine.

The newly approved legislation narrows that gap. Under it, those convicted of having more than 8 grams of crack would face the same sentences as those with more than 150 grams of powder cocaine.

Changes to Missouri drug laws were included in broad legislation dealing with the state's judiciary. The House voted 143-0 to give the measure final approval, and it now goes to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. It already cleared the state Senate.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers trumpeted the measure, calling it a matter of fairness. The legislation would lower Missouri's 75-to-1 ratio in sentencing people for the two types of cocaine to a ratio of about 18-to-1.

"This bill is monumental in its scope," said House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

Federal drug laws in 2010 were changed to more closely align prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine. Previously, the federal government had a 100-to-1 sentencing ratio.

Last year, a national group that advocates for criminal justice reforms urged more than a dozen states to eliminate sentencing disparities in state drug laws. The Sentencing Project said in its report that the disparity is unfair to black drug users, who are more likely to be charged with crack cocaine offenses, and can lead to costly prison terms for nonviolent offenders.

 


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