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CLINTON OKS PLAN TO STANDARDIZE COCAINE PENALTIES

President Clinton today accepted a proposal by two of his top officials on the racially sensitive issue of reducing the wide disparities in federal prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Clinton said he agreed with the plan by Attorney General Janet Reno and White House drug-policy chief Barry McCaffrey to narrow the penalties for the two principal forms of cocaine.

"Attorney General Reno and General McCaffrey have sent me their recommendation. I have accepted it and I have urged them to go to work immediately with the Congress to try to reach an acceptable resolution of this," Clinton said.

Controversy over the issue has emerged in recent years due to the tougher sentences given mainly to blacks for crack cocaine, while the punishment has been lighter for convictions involving powder cocaine, a drug more often used by whites.

The disparity has led to claims of unfairness and inconsistency in the nation's judicial system.

Under the Clinton proposal, sellers of 25 grams of crack cocaine would receive the same mandatory prison sentence as someone convicted of selling 250 grams of powdered cocaine.

Under current law, five grams of crack cocaine and 500 grams of powder cocaine both trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence -- five years in prison.

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