SOC 2460: Drugs and Society
Reaction Essay #2
Due Friday, April 5, 2013
The derivative of cocaine known as “crack’ has become a prolific drug in recent decades. Due to its high potency and addiction capability, crack offers instantaneous effects for its users that develop into serious addictions. The social standing of crack has evolved into a lower-class substance because of its inexpensive price and rampant use among those in urban environments. Discrepancies between cocaine and crack stemming from public perceptions and instead of researched data have produced a social phenomenon that promotes racial inequality. If this negative effect is to be reduced, the justice system in the United States must produce advance legislation to repeal the initial standards for crack. In doing so, sentencing for drug crimes may more accurately match the dangers associated with the drug instead of targeting socioeconomic groups disproportionately. Cocaine is a stimulant obtained from the leaves of the cocoa plant. In powder form it is often snorted by users to gain a euphoric high and feeling of extreme energy. Beginning in the mid 1980’s the United States began to witness widespread usage of the freebase form of cocaine, which eventually was deemed “crack” by the media. While the physiological effects were essentially the same as powder cocaine, they are felt at much more short, intense bursts due its concentrated form and smoking being the preferred method of intake. Cooked with common baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to produce small rock crystals, crack offered a more affordable alternative to powder cocaine. Compared to the typical purchase of cocaine powder at $80-100 per gram, crack rocks are available for as little as $5-10, making them inexpensive enough for low-income individuals to buy. The ease of concealing or destroying small crack rocks if police were near made them an ideal for use in urban settings that include much public interaction and potential interface with law enforcement (Cockburn, 1999). These two characteristics of crack give explanation for why its use has thrived exclusively in high population density areas. As crack use spread throughout US cities, the national media began to report to the public the dangers associated with this new drug. Originally perceived as being more addictive than powder cocaine, crack was thought to be much more dangerous. Violent crime affiliation, increasingly rampant use, youths being more drawn to crack and the risk of “crack babies” from pregnant women were highlighted in news reports and accepted by Congress as a need for harsher sentencing for the new form (Chitwood, 1996, pg. 34). As a result, sentencing for crack-related offenses was established at a 100:1 ratio of severity compared to powder cocaine. For example, a conviction for a crime involving 5 grams of crack would receive the same punishment as 500 grams of powder cocaine (Heckathorn, 2013). While the reasons and evidence for such severe punishment were later disproven and crack cocaine was found to be as equally dangerous as powder form, the mandatory sentences remained in place until recently. This created disproportionately harsh incarceration rates for African Americans as a result.
Crack is usually sold in small quantities in open-air markets due to its low cost. Powder is more expensive and usually sold in larger quantities behind closed doors in locations that are inherently private. In urban areas, the “fronts” of crack use and sales are large metropolitan centers, which gather the greater emphasis and attention of law enforcement (Heckathorn, 2013). Since minorities and lower income individuals are most likely to inhabit these areas, they are therefore at greater risk of arrest for crack cocaine possession than are white and higher income powder offenders. This higher risk combined with the much harsher mandatory sentences produced record levels of