Obama Signs Drug Sentencing Reform Into Law

Reform advocates say the compromise bill is a first step to closing massive racial disparities in incarceration.

By Jamilah King Aug 03, 2010

This morning President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, a bill that reduces the disparities in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses. Although he didn’t make a statement as he signed the new legislation, the president did say in a [speech](http://m.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-education-reform-national-urban-league-centennial-conference) last week that the legislation would "help right a longstanding wrong" and was "the right thing to do," [reports the New York Times](http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/obama-signs-law-narrowing-cocaine-sentencing-disparities/). The new law mandates that the ratio in sentencing be lessened to 18 to 1 from 100 to 1 –a reluctant [compromise](http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/03/crack_sentencing_bill_passes_senate.html) by drug sentencing reform advocates. We’ve reported before that since 1986, a person convicted of simple possession of crack cocaine has gotten the same mandatory sentence as a person with 100 times that amount of powder cocaine — often a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession, not dealing. Those sentences were deeply racially skewed: 85 percent of people convicted of crack offenses are black, even though blacks make up just 30 percent of crack users. "By signing this reform into law, President Obama will save taxpayer money, reduce racial disparities and better prioritize federal law enforcement towards major crime syndicates instead of low-level offenders," Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Times. Congress still has to decide whether to apply the law retroactively.