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Discussion :Minimum Sentencing Policies

Discussion :Minimum Sentencing Policies

Discussion :Minimum Sentencing Policies

Discussion :Minimum Sentencing Policies

As you will learn more about in this week’s readings, the “War on Drugs” in the US has been going on for nearly 50 years since it was first formally declared by President Richard Nixon in 1969. While the drug wars are a large mix of policy and programs aimed at preventing and intervening in drug use, there is one primary, policy-level intervention that has garnered a large part of the attention from lawmakers, law enforcement officials, legal scholars, and activists: mandatory sentencing. Mandatory sentencing laws relate to the classification of particular drugs and the sentences that judges are required to give to people who are found guilty of possessing or distributing those drugs.

Some people argue that there are particular drugs that are worse than others and their use and distribution should be punished more severely. Others argue that by prosecuting particular drugs more harshly, it places an unfair burden on the groups who use that drug more, even though other groups are using different drugs just as much. The clearest example of this is with policies related to crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. Crack and cocaine are chemically identical to one another, but the two drugs are processed into different forms and ingested differently. Crack is usually much less expensive than cocaine and is generally found in lower income areas, whereas cocaine tends to be found in higher income communities. The majority of evidence suggests that overall drug usage rates are similar across communities, but that the type of drugs used are different.

Crack, however, historically carried minimum sentences that were over 100 times as strong as those for powder cocaine (this law was changed to 18 times as strong in 2010). In addition, drug possession and sales tend to be policed much more intensely in lower income communities, which means that people using and selling drugs in low income areas are arrested at much higher rates than those in higher income communities. Therefore, a larger percentage of drug users in low income communities are being convicted of drug use than those in higher income areas, and the convictions are significantly harsher. The primary question that arises in all of this is if this is fair.


American Civil Liberties Union. (2006). Cracks in the system: Twenty years of the unjust federal crack cocaine laws

(Links to an external site.)

. Retrieved from

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings

(Links to an external site.)

[PDF, file size 2.64 MB], NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 11-46 58. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from

Remember that an active discussion is the key to an interesting and engaging online course. As you engage with the questions and with others as they join in the discussion, be sure to read what has already been posted and then add substantively to the discussion. Time goes quickly, so remember to post early! The first question is opinion-based so that you can begin the discussion immediately without having completed all of your readings. You will apply your assigned readings to subsequent questions.

For this discussion, you will discuss with your classmates whether mandatory minimum sentencing policies for particular drugs are an effective and just policy option for preventing and intervening in drug use. Use the following questions to help guide your initial response:

Are mandatory minimum sentences a rational policy alternative to deter the use and sale of illegal drugs?

Should crack and powder cocaine to be treated differently at a policy level?

Do drug policies unfairly target particular groups?

How might drug policies affect disparities?

Then, respond to your classmates. How did your thoughts differ from your classmate’s? What important points did your classmate raise that you could expand on? How does your lens (your personal experiences, background, learning, etc.) affect your thinking on this subject? What examples could you share that would highlight the difference in thinking between you and your classmate? How does your lens differ from that of your classmate?

Consult the Discussion Posting Guide for information about writing your discussion posts. It is recommended that you write your post in a document first. Check your work and correct any spelling or grammatical errors. When you are ready to make your initial post, click on “Reply.” Then copy/paste the text into the message field, and click “Post Reply.”

To respond to a peer, click “Reply” beneath her or his post and continue as with an initial post.


This discussion will be graded using a rubric. Please review this rubric prior to beginning the discussion. You can view the rubric on the Course Rubrics page within the Start Here module. All discussions combined are worth 25% of your final course grade.

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