WOW, shit actually changed today...
At the height of the 1980s crack epidemic the United States government responded to public panic with new, harsh penalties for drug convictions. Of the new laws implemented, by far the most controversial was the law which made the sentence for anyone convicted of a crack-cocaine crime 100 times worse than that of a person convicted of a powdered-cocaine crime.
The actual difference between the two drugs is slight. Crack-cocaine is a bastardized form of powder-cocaine that has been diluted with water, mixed with baking soda and cooked into a rock form that is ready to be smoked. Powder-cocaine is simply that; pure cocaine. Its been argued that crack is more addictive, but there are studies contradicting that claim.
The main difference between the two is the price. Crack is incredibly cheap and typically a poor man's drug, while pure cocaine is much more valuable and also much more difficult to come across. So the law that saw crack users receive penalties 100 times harsher than powder cocaine violators led to huge numbers of poor addicts being sent to jail for decades for tiny amounts of crack. Meanwhile many rich men and drug dealers who used the powdered-cocaine to manufacture the crack often got off with sentences far shorter than that of their customers. This, along with legislation like the 3 Strikes law, caused a huge boom in the prison population consisting of mostly minorities and the impoverished. And the resulting jump in prison population has created the monster of the Prison Industrial Complex; an entire new economic structure that encourages capitalists to build private prisons; many of which use inmates for cheap labor thus creating a brand new class of slaves.
Activists and organizations have been fighting for the past 20 years to change the drugs laws and miraculously, things changed this week. Today, President Obama signed into law a bill that will change the sentence differential from 100:1, to 18:1. This is a MUTHAFUCKING HUGE development. It is a giant step on the way to dissolving the last bits of discriminatory legislation and hopefully with fewer addicts (people who need treatment not prison sentences) locked up for 20 years at a time, their will be fewer broken families and a better foundation being laid in the urban communities of America.