Understanding Cocaine Charges And Sentencing

It has been the case that for over a century now that local, state, and federal governments have battled against the use of illegal narcotics. The way in which these agencies have responded to the issue of drug use is directly shaped by a wide variety of factors that include the nature and extent of use, the level of public concern, and degrees of government responsibility. 

The  History Of Cocaine Enforcement Efforts

The use of cocaine as a recreational drug really started to boom in the 70s and 80s, although this is not to say that the drug was not popular before this. It was during the middle part of the 1880s that the drug was first introduced to the people of the United States of America, although it was not until the early part of the 1900s that its use became common. During this time, it was touted as a remedy for various conditions, including various respiratory ailments, as an alternative to morphine, and even as an aphrodisiac. 

However, it was not long after this that the danger of using cocaine became apparent and people started to become addicted to it. In 1891 there were some 200 deaths that were attributed to cocaine use. It has been estimated that despite the fact that in 1906 the population of the United States of America was half the size it was in 76, it still consumed exactly the same amount of cocaine. 

Because of the dangers that cocaine use, some states started to put in place cocaine regulations as early as the year 1887. It was in 1917 that the Harrison Narcotics Act was brought into place on a national level, seeing 46 different states introducing strict regulations relating to the distribution and use of cocaine. 

As a result of the introduction of the Harrison Narcotics Act, the use of cocaine in the United States of America reduced greatly. By the time that the 50s came, cocaine use had declined so much that it was no longer seen as by the government as a reason for concern. 

Congress Response To Cocaine Use

It was in the year 1970 that Congress performed an overhaul of the national drug laws at a federal level. As part of this was a repeal of minimum sentences for Cocaine Charges. However, what did remain was the mandatory provision of the Continuing Criminal Enterprise.

These actions by congress went to show that the government was concerned by having minimum penalties in place, it impacted on the rehabilitation process and did not allow judges to use their own personal discretion in setting sentences for individual cases. It was also urged by some members of congress by reducing minimum penalties, it reduces the deterrent of cocaine use. 

The 1970 Act was responsible for creating a standard that was common for all scheduling drugs. During the same year the Continuing Criminal Enterprise statute and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act were passed into law, focusing on king pins of illegal drug syndicates and included the act of forfeiture (giving up something) as a tool for enforcement. Then in 1971 further acts were brought into being that provided greater assistance to stop both the production of illegal drugs and drug trafficking. 

1986 Anti Drug Abuse Act

It was this act that created the very framework for minimum penalties that currently stands pertaining to drug trafficking charges. It worked to create a two tier system of jail terms ( five years and ten years ) for those traffickers who were charged with their first offence. Under the act, jail terms are determined solely by the type of drug being trafficked and the volume being trafficked. For instance, for those trafficking offences where 5 kgs of cocaine or 1 kg of heroin were involved, these trigger a ten year jail sentence. As part of the act, the higher end of the minimum penalties are given to those traffickers with previous offences. 

The act also brought about a clear distinction between the various forms of cocaine, including cocaine base. The thresholds for bringing about a ten year jail sentence include just 50 grams of cocaine base in comparison to 5 kgs of powdered cocaine. 

Because the act was expedited through Congress it left behind it a very limited record when it comes to legislation. Although there were lots of members who had floor statements regarding the act itself, there was no committee that produced any sort of report that analyzed the main provisions of the act. It was in August 1986 that the sentencing provisions relating to the act were first initiated. 

1988 Anti Drug Abuse Act

As part of the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988, the concerns that congress held about illegal drugs, such as crack cocaine were further underscored. However, the biggest change was relating to minimum penalties for drug trafficking attempts and conspiracies, as these were only relevant to drug trafficking offenses that had already been performed. The act also made it so that even first time possession offences for crack cocaine came with a minimum penalty. It made having more than 5 grams of a cocaine base an offense that carried a five year jail term. This was also made true for possession of 3 grams of cocaine base in the person in question already had prior convictions of the same offence. If they had two prior convictions, then just 1 gram of cocaine base would now land them a five year jail term.

The Role Of Federal Enforcement Today

There are various federal departments and agencies that today are responsible for drug control enforcement and for limiting the amount of cocaine that makes it onto the streets of towns and cities across the United States of America. These include the likes of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Customs Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Immigration and Naturalization Service, plus many more. However, enforcement between all of these organizations is difficult, hence the widespread cocaine use that is still prevalent in the country today.

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