Lawmakers in the Assembly approved on Thursday a bill that would reduce the penalties for the sale of crack cocaine, closing a sentencing disparity that supporters say hurts communities of color.  

The measure, by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would make the penalties for the sale of crack equal to those for powder cocaine.

"Disparate sentencing for the two forms of the same drug has resulted in a pattern of institutional racism, with longer prison sentences given to people of color," said Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena).

Opponents argued reducing the punishment for crack was not the way to address high rates of sentencing for minorities.

"If there is a disproportionate number of minorities that are abusing drugs or being caught in criminal proceedings as result of that drug use, that’s a tragedy," said Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Hungtington Beach), "but that is absolutely no basis to reduce penalties and to send a message...that that sort of behavior is okay."

Allen and some other Republicans advocated raising the penalties for powder cocaine, instead of reducing the sentences for crack.

But other Republicans said they supported the measure. 

Twenty years of the stiff punishment for crack cocaine has created "a disparity that is hard to justify, and perhaps even harder to sustain," said Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner (R-Irvine).

The bill, SB 1010, passed on a 49-14 vote and now returns to the Senate for final legislative approval. 

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