Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988

Instructor: Jesse Davis

Jesse has worked in law enforcement for over 10 years in various capacities including patrol and investigations. For five years, his duties included instruction to area schools. He has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was created as part of the Federal government's 'War on Drugs.' It sought to increase penalties for those who were involved in the sale and use of illegal narcotics.

Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988

Chances are, you've heard the phrase 'Just Say No' regarding drug use. This term came to prevalence during the epidemic drug use that gripped the United States and the subsequent 'War on Drugs' during the 1980's. Deaths from promising athlete Len Bias made cocaine a hot topic in households across the nation, and the public's reaction to the drug problem left the government scrambling to actively combat the plague that was sweeping the nation. At this point, the United States government built upon the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 with changes which then became the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 contained a myriad of changes, enhancements, penalties, and funding for the war on drugs. It focused on both the seller and the user of illegal narcotics. It was the government's answer to battling the drug epidemic by providing changes to the law, making for harsher sentences for those involved in the drug trade.

Enhanced Penalties

Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine gets its name from the sound it makes when heated.
crack cocaine

One of the main drugs targeted by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was crack cocaine. Crack cocaine has similar properties compared to powder cocaine. It is generally derived from powdered cocaine, and after a process involving combining the powder with other substances, produces a rock or crystal form. This rock is then heated and smoked, and tends to produce a cracking sound, hence the name. Crack cocaine also tends to be significantly cheaper than powder cocaine, making it more desirable to lower socioeconomic demographics.

Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, being in possession of just five grams of crack cocaine carried a five year minimum prison sentence. Conversely, it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to get a five year sentence. It was widely believed at the time that crack cocaine was instantly addictive, and would lead to an epidemic of so called 'crack babies.' It should be noted though, those claims appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Drug Trafficking

DEA agents making an arrest
DEA Arrest

One aspect the bill targeted was increased penalties for those who commit drug related offenses. For example, it allowed for the death penalty to be used against drug 'kingpins,' those who actively engage in criminal enterprises such as drug sales or distribution, and commit federal felonies, such as murder. It also closed a loophole in the 1986 act--now allowing anyone involved in the criminal enterprise of selling or distributing drugs to be held liable for any act. For example, if a person selling drugs on the street could be connected to a larger enterprise or distribution network, they could be charged with conspiracy and serve very long federal prison sentences.

Office of National Drug Control Policy

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 created the Office of National Drug Control Policy, or ONDCP. The purpose of this policy was to eradicate drug use and drug crimes and create a drug control strategy by overseeing various policies and programs nationwide.

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