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Missouri Lawmakers Trim Disparity in Drug Sentences

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri measure that would reduce the disparity in prison sentences between people convicted of crack and powder cocaine crimes gained final approval from lawmakers Friday and is now headed to the governor.

Currently, a person convicted of producing, distributing or possessing more than 2 grams of crack in Missouri faces the same prison sentence as someone convicted of a similar offense involving more than 150 grams of powder cocaine. An offender with at least 6 grams of crack faces the same punishment as a person with at least 450 grams of the drug’s powder form.

The newly approved legislation narrows that gap. Under it, those convicted of having more than 8 grams of crack would face the same sentences as those with more than 150 grams of powder cocaine. Those with at least 24 grams of crack would face the same penalties as those with at least 450 grams of powder cocaine.

Changes to Missouri drug laws were included in broad legislation dealing with the state’s judiciary. The House voted 143-0 to give the measure final approval. It had already cleared the state Senate. Next, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon will receive the legislation.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers trumpeted the measure, calling it a matter of fairness. The legislation would lower Missouri’s 75-to-1 ratio in sentencing people for the two types of cocaine to a ratio of about 18-to-1.

“This bill is monumental in its scope,” said House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

Federal drug laws in 2010 were changed to more closely align prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine. Previously, the federal government had a 100-to-1 sentencing ratio.

Last year, a national group that advocates for criminal justice reforms urged more than a dozen states to eliminate sentencing disparities in state drug laws. The Sentencing Project said in its report that the disparity is unfair to black drug users, who are more likely to be charged with crack cocaine offenses, and can lead to costly prison terms for nonviolent offenders.

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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