What is crack?
Crack is a form of cocaine. Chemically, it is “pure” cocaine. It is usually produced by “cooking” powder cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride) with water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). This converts cocaine hydrochloride to cocaine base and sodium chloride. The crystals or “rocks” that are produced in this process crackle when heated to vaporization point, giving the drug its street name, “crack”. Another system of treating powder cocaine is with ammonia or lye, and the freebase cocaine is extracted with ether. This was a “pre-crack” technique to produce cocaine that can be vaporized, and is known as freebase cocaine. Although the terms “freebase” and “crack” are often used interchangeably, they are slightly different. It is crack, not freebase, that is most commonly found being sold on the streets.
The federal law, and the laws of eleven states, is harsher for crack than for cocaine. Crack, like cocaine, is classified as a schedule II drug, yet under federal law, simple possession of just 5 grams (the equivalent of 5 packets of Sweet ‘N Low ®) carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years, and a maximum of 20 years. Simple possession of other controlled substances is a misdemeanor with a maximum term of imprisonment of 1 year. Illegal distribution of small quantities of crack has very harsh penalties—harsher than those for cocaine distribution. A mandatory minimum sentence of five years with a maximum of forty years is triggered by crack offenses involving 5 grams of crack (less than 1/5 of an ounce) and 500 grams of cocaine powder (more than one pound). A mandatory minimum sentence of ten years with a maximum term of life imprisonment is triggered by 50 grams of crack (less than two ounces) and 5000 grams of cocaine powder (about twelve pounds).