Casualties in the War on Drugs 1986

Crack (an inexpensive, powerful form of cocaine) exploded on the scene in New York City in 1985. The drug created an alarming new battlefield in the ongoing “War on Drugs.” In response, President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986. The act addressed many aspects of the drug crisis in the United States, but its most consequential provision was its mandatory sentencing guidelines for drug crimes. There was a significant disparity between the mandatory sentence for crack versus powdered cocaine. Because African Americans are more frequently convicted of possession and distribution of crack cocaine and whites of powdered cocaine, these sentencing guidelines resulted in exponentially higher incarceration rates for African Americans despite similar rates of drug use. In August, 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act to address the discrepancy.