The Issue

Crack v. Cocaine: The Issue is Black & White

By Garrett Stanton

The Texas state judicial system has for decades been known to be one of the harshest on drug related crimes.  In 2012, Texas had the third largest prison population among the most populous states including California, New York, and Florida with 166,372 people. Along with high incarceration rates, the percentage of minorities in the prison system continues to increase.  In 2002, 7 out of 10 incarcerated individuals were either black or Mexican in the state of Texas[1].  The lopsided representation of minorities, specifically blacks, has largely to do with drug laws targeting African Americans in harsher manners than whites.  Specifically, the difference between how the judicial system handles powder cocaine and crack cocaine magnifies the unfair treatment and racial injustice blacks receive compared to their white counterparts.

Drug crimes have continued to plague the nation nationally, filling prisons with people that need help, not punishment.  In 2012, 1,552,432 arrests were made for drug related crimes.  Comparatively, 521,196 arrests were made for violent crimes[2].  Texas, being part of the Mexico-US border, has many drug crimes annually.  Because the state is so close to Mexico, many drug cartels bring cocaine and other substances into Texas, distributing drugs and affecting lives of Texans and citizens of other states.  Specifically, the crimes surrounding drugs give rise to racial unfairness within the Texas state justice system. 

To understand the problem blacks face with crack vs. cocaine, the fundamental differences between the two drugs must be articulated.   Both crack and cocaine are derived from the same type of coca plant; however, the different drugs have different levels of refinement.  Powder cocaine is the most pure form of the drug, containing the most pure ingredients and derives strictly from a plant.  Crack cocaine is less pure, with infusions of sodium bicarbonate included, making it a drug that can be smoked to receive the high effects.  Further, since crack cocaine is smoked, it takes less time for the drug to affect the user’s brain than it does for the user to snort powder cocaine.  Also, baking soda can be infused with crack cocaine, creating impurities.  Due to its impurities, crack cocaine is often a cheaper drug on the black market and is in more supply because less pure cocaine is needed than is needed in powder cocaine.  Both drugs can be highly addictive, and often ruin the lives of people that get involved with these drugs[3].

Crack Cocaine is consumed through smoking, affecting the brain in nearly 8 seconds.
Powder cocaine, the most pure form of the drug, is snorted through the nose.

Further, the ethnic breakdown of users and sellers involved with crack cocaine and powder cocaine heightens the social divide between blacks and whites.   According to the 2006 U.S. Sentencing Commission, 57.50% of crimes due to powder cocaine involved Hispanics, 27% included blacks, 14.30% whites, and 1.20% other.  Hispanics are often involved in the initial trade and transportation of pure forms of cocaine because much of the cocaine used in the United States comes from Central America.  It is still alarming that more blacks are being arrested for powder cocaine than whites.  This statistic is more likely to result of leniency for whites while blacks are constantly facing full prosecution in state courts and racial profiling.  For crack cocaine, in the same year 8.40% of arrests involved Hispanics, 8.80% of the arrests were accounted by white people, and 81.80% of the arrests included black people, while another 1% of arrests involved other races[4].  Many blacks each year are consumed by crack cocaine, and often face harsher penalties than powder cocaine users.

Drug arrests fall into various categories.  Some people are simply users while others are looking to transport or profit off of the drugs.  In 2005, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that 12.70% of powder cocaine arrests were of users while crack cocaine users made up 4.70% of crack arrests.  The largest percentage of powder cocaine arrests at 33.10% represented smugglers, often including drug cartels.  Dealers made up 7.3% of cocaine arrests.  Street dealers were accountable for 55.4% of crack cocaine arrests in 2005 while smuggling was a low 1.4%.  Often blacks are more associated with crack cocaine, allowing statistics to show that more blacks selling drugs are being arrested than whites.  The authorities in many states, mostly southern, are more inclined to search a black man for drugs before a white man due racial profiling that continues around the nation.  Although it is immoral to sell drugs, blacks are more likely to be incarcerated for doing so in comparison to whites, frequently due to racial stigmas and unfair assumptions.

Despite similarities in the drugs, crack cocaine is far worse to be charged with than cocaine.  Although both drugs try to achieve a similar high, the drugs are seen as completely different drugs in the judicial system.  Violators of crack cocaine laws will receive a sentencing of 100x worse than someone with the same amount of powder cocaine.  For instance, if a person were to be charged with 100 grams of cocaine, they would be charged with around 21 to 27 months in prison.  However, it will only take 1 gram of crack cocaine to receive a similar sentencing from the judicial system[5].  The effects of both drugs are very similar, yet the adding of baking soda makes crack cocaine a way worse offense.  Crack cocaine affects the mind faster, giving users a less likely chance to escape the drug and the harsh penalties that follow it.  However, it seems unreasonable to think adding baking soda makes the drug 100x more illegal.  Crack cocaine is not 100x more addictive than powder cocaine, nor does it get you that much higher.  A more clear reasoning for this difference is the ethnic breakdown for each drug, dividing blacks into mostly crack users and whites into powder cocaine users.  Underlying social woes can be a dominating factor towards why blacks are more involved with crack cocaine.  The discrepancy in prison sentences point to the underlying racial issues cocaine produces in the judicial system.

Cocaine, in powdered and crack form are harmful to citizens of all races, but the laws affecting both drugs heavily favor whites to blacks.  Texas, a state leading in prison incarceration rates, must change the way in which they handle drug crimes and try to sentence incarcerated individuals in a colorblind manner.  In order for future changes and justice, Texas must reexamine their cocaine laws, reduce the war on drugs, and invest further in correctional facilities for drug users such as rehabilitation, rather than prison.  Additionally, the number of street dealers and other users can be reduced with higher spending in education, giving more people a chance to escape drug use and avoid selling drugs to survive.  Texas must become a leading innovator with regards to how drug crimes are handled by reducing the racial injustice and longstanding inequalities blacks and other minorities continue to face in our nation today.


[1] "Race and Imprisonment in Texas." N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.


[2] "Crime, Arrests, and US Law Enforcement." N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <>.


[3] "Cocaine vs Crack." - Difference and Comparison. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <>.


[4] "United States Sentencing Commission." N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <>.




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