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February 12, 1997

Crack vs Inhaled Cocaine and Sentencing

Author Affiliations

Yale University School of Medicine New Haven, Conn

JAMA. 1997;277(6):457. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540300025018

To the Editor.  —Differences between crack cocaine and cocaine hydrochloride were accepted until the discovery that blacks were disproportionately convicted for possession of crack (a form of cocaine hydrochloride). This led to charges that the law was discriminatory1 and that the disparity between the weight of cocaine hydrochloride and the weight of crack needed to trigger mandatory sentences was based on "mythical" differences. The review by Hatsukami and Fischman1 addresses this issue.That crack and cocaine hydrochloride are ultimately the same substance is irrelevant. Lead can be found in bullets or in printer's type. The intent of the user not the chemical composition of the material is the relevant information for the legal system.The weight of material held by the person accused of possession serves only as a metaphor for intent. A greater weight implies an intent to distribute. A smaller amount implies that the drug is for personal use. There