The Justice Department supports elimination of the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine.
Lanny A. Breuer, the new chief of the criminal division, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that the Obama administration would support bills to equalize punishment for offenders convicted of possessing the drug in either form, fulfilling one of the president's campaign pledges.
Breuer explicitly called on Congress to act this term to "completely eliminate" the sentencing disparity.
The issue has received attention from both political parties, but until now, top law enforcement officials have not backed legislative reforms, according to drug control analysts.
"Now is the time for us to reexamine federal cocaine sentencing policy, from the perspective of both fundamental fairness and safety," Breuer told the subcommittee on crime and drugs. He said the issues would be among those considered by a Justice Department panel that within six months is to develop recommendations on an array of topics related to charging, sentencing and prisoner treatment.
This is quite welcome, and further evidence that the new Administration is bringing a modicum of rationality to drug policy.