Advocates push for revamped drug penalties in Iowa

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

DES MOINES (AP) -- Some Iowa lawmakers and legal advocates say state drug laws that include methamphetamine and crack cocaine penalties need to be revamped.

A legislative study committee agreed Wednesday to take steps that could lead to a major revision to the state's drug laws. Some say the laws are unfair or racially biased.

Those caught with five or more grams of meth under Iowa law are sentenced to a mandatory 25-year prison term for drug trafficking. Under federal law, the penalty for possessing 50 grams of meth is a five-year minimum sentence. Possession of 500 grams brings a mandatory 10-year sentence.

Advocates for changing Iowa sentencing laws say recreational users in Iowa are being sentenced to decades of prison time, even though they aren't dealers.

Iowa also has tougher penalties for crimes involving crack cocaine compared to powdered cocaine. Civil rights advocates say those laws are racially biased, since African-Americans are more likely to use crack cocaine than the powder form.

"The social effect is more whites use powder cocaine while the black population is more likely to be prosecuted on crack cases," said Keith Rigg, a criminal defense attorney from Des Moines. "This is the state with one of the highest minority prison populations in the country."

A report last year by the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project ranked Iowa first in the nation in the rate of incarceration of blacks compared to whites.

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