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BMC International Health and Human Rights
DOI of Original Publication
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Background: As of May 2017, the United States federal government renewed its prioritization for the enforcement of mandatory minimum sentences for illicit drug offenses. While the effect of such policies on racial disparities in incarceration is well-documented, less is known about the extent to which these laws are associated with decreased drug use. This study aims to identify changes in cocaine use associated with mandatory minimum sentencing policies by examining differential sentences for powder and crack cocaine set by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act (ADAA) (100:1) and the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which reduced the disparate sentencing to 18:1.
Methods: Using data from National Survey on Drug Use and Health, we examined past-year cocaine use before and after implementation of the ADAA (1985–1990, N = 21,296) and FSA (2009–2013, N = 130,574). We used weighted logistic regressions and Z-tests across models to identify differential change in use between crack and powder cocaine. Prescription drug misuse, or use outside prescribed indication or dose, was modeled as a negative control to identify underlying drug trends not related to sentencing policies.
Results: Despite harsher ADAA penalties for crack compared to powder cocaine, there was no decrease in crack use following implementation of sentencing policies (odds ratio (OR): 0.72, p = 0.13), although both powder cocaine use and misuse of prescription drugs (the negative control) decreased (OR: 0.59, p < 0.01; OR: 0.42, p < 0.01 respectively). Furthermore, there was no change in crack use following the FSA, but powder cocaine use decreased, despite no changes to powder cocaine sentences (OR: 0.81, p = 0.02), suggesting that drug use is driven by factors not associated with sentencing policy.
Conclusions: Despite harsher penalties for crack versus powder cocaine, crack use declined less than powder cocaine and even less than drugs not included in sentencing policies. These findings suggest that mandatory minimum sentencing may not be an effective method of deterring cocaine use.
© The Author(s). 2018 Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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VCU Healthcare Policy and Research Publications