The more rapidly it is ingested the swifter and more dramatic the effect. So much so that Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes describe cocaine as "so transcendentally stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment". Or to use the more demotic speak of a modern-day crack user "it is like a whole-body orgasm".
The risk of spontaneous freebase combustion led users to develop the most lethal form of cocaine - known as devil's dandruff, food, rock or simply crack. Here the cocaine is cooked with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate to a pale brown colour. In that form cocaine is at its most addictive, more so even than heroin.
The evidence is that cocaine is about as addictive as alcohol but that more users - about 50 per cent - end up with an addiction problem. The trouble is there is no way to predict which 50 per cent - "everyone starts off using cocaine in a non-dependent fashion," says Dr Adam Winstock of the National Addiction Centre, "Nobody thinks they'll end up in a dependency unit in five years." Cocaine dependency develops after about three years of steady use. But while it takes about six months for someone to become addicted to heroin, it can take as few as six hits of crack cocaine.
The signature law of that era was the federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which singled out crack offenders for the most severe punishment. Under the law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine incurred the same five-year minimum sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine. That 100-to-1 quantity disparity, the equivalent of 2 ½ cups vs. 1¼ teaspoons of sugar, remained in place until 2010, when the federal ratio was reduced to 18 to 1.
"The crack cocaine epidemic of the '80s was something that was looked at like this kind of a virus that needed to be stamped out, and the people who were involved in it where these subhumans who needed to be put away, " Morello said.
After Congress acted in '86, state lawmakers were quick to follow the federal government's lead. Fifteen states singled out crack offenders for more severe punishment, with quantity disparities between powder cocaine and crack ranging from 2-to-1 in California to 100-to-1 in Iowa and North Dakota.
Yet nine times as many blacks as whites went to federal prison for crack offenses, from 1991 to 2001, the Network found. Black sentences for crack were double that for white crack offenders in federal court during those years: 148 months vs. 84 months. Among arrests, the largest racial disparity came in 1992 when blacks were arrested for cocaine at a rate nearly eight times higher than whites.
In December 2018, President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan FIRST STEP Act that, among other reforms, made the law that reduced the 100-to-1 disparity between powder cocaine and crack retroactive. That meant that federal crack offenders, who were given five- and 10-year minimum sentences for crack amounts that were 100 times lower than the minimums for powder cocaine, saw their sentences reduced. 2b1af7f3a8