Washington — From relative obscurity a few months ago, crack cocaine has emerged as one of the country's No. 1 drug concerns. Yesterday, Sen. Lawton Chiles (D) of Florida introduced a package of three bills to Congress which would sharply toughen federal penalties against the sale and use of the drug. ``We face an emergency and need to take emergency steps,'' said Senator Chiles, citing the dramatic spread of the narcotic in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and other major cities.
The drug, which is produced by treating conventional powdered cocaine, is considered especially insidious by drug enforcement officials because of its unusually addictive nature and relatively low cost.
The three bills in the Chiles package would:
Amend the Controlled Substances Act to accommodate stiffer penalties against crack and rock (another form of the drug) users and dealers. Currently, the act classifies cocaine and other cocoa leaf derivatives in the second most dangerous category, because there are known medical uses for these drugs. Crack and rock have no known medical use. However, the bill would upgrade this drug's classification to the most dangerous category, thus increasing the penalty attached to its use or sale. Violations involving one gram or more of rock or crack would carry up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine on the first offense. For repeat offenders, the penalties could be doubled.
Make it a felony to employ a minor in an illegal drug enterprise. Currently, there is no law on the books specifically targeting the employment of minors as a felony offense.
Rock and crack cocaine manufacturing and distribution enterprises are said to frequently use minors in their operations. The bill would enable suspects to be apprehended by law enforcement officials even without drugs in hand. Penalties would be up to 40 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for a first offense; up to life imprisonment and up to $1.5 million for repeat offenders.
Make it a felony to manufacture or process drugs within 1,000 feet of schools. This would be on top of existing penalties for distribution and manufacture of drugs. Current law provides penalties only for distribution of drugs. The penalties would be the same as those for employing minors in a drug making operation.
The package will likely be subject to hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because the year is half over, and Congress already has its plate full of unfinished issues, aides to Chiles said ultimate passage of the bill may have to wait until the new Congress takes its seat in January. But as increasing attention is paid to the dangers of crack and rock, support may well swell for this type of legislation.
Chiles said congressional conferees working on a stopgap federal spending bill had agreed to an amendment directing the National Drug Enforcement Policy Board to develop a ``national plan of assistance'' to state and local law agencies to halt trafficking in rock and crack cocaine, and to launch a nationwide publicity campaign about the dangers of crack.
It is reported that addiction has led to extreme criminal behavior, even among those individuals with no prior criminal record. Individuals who have fallen for crack or rock cross racial, social, and economic boundaries.