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February 12, 1997

Crack vs Inhaled Cocaine and Sentencing

Author Affiliations

Stanford University School of Medicine Stanford, Calif

JAMA. 1997;277(6):457-458. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540300025019

To the Editor.  —The review presented by Drs Hatsukami and Fischman1 fails to address 1 important reason that federal law governing the possession of crack cocaine is disproportionately strict compared to that governing cocaine hydrochloride: the lay media.A review of 318 articles from 11 major magazines (eg, Time, Newsweek, US News) from 1975 to 19902 illustrates that the media was often inaccurate in describing the effects of cocaine and the consequences of its use. These magazines tended to concentrate on events concerning specific celebrities, the prevalence of cocaine use in the inner city, and its association with crime at a time when use had peaked and was beginning a 7-year decline. Undoubtedly, the sense of panic fostered by the media contributed to the development of sentencing guidelines during 1986 and 1988.Reporting volume tells part of the story: fewer than 5 articles about cocaine were published in 1978. By 1981 and