Now, the dealer is less likely to be the gangbanger calling out from the street corner than the young, jobless neighbor who grew up watching his mother cooking crack on the kitchen stove and learned how to hustle to survive.
Crack addiction has proved to be notoriously difficult to dislodge. "There are so many triggers for relapse," said former addict and drug counselor Don Hashima. And there are so few clear paths to redemption for people hurled by addiction to society's margins.
The sentencing changes are a good first step. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the new guidelines should save $42 million over the next five years by reducing the prison population.
Some of that money should go into creating drug abuse programs tailored to the special challenges posed by crack addiction.
But more ought to go into ameliorating the social problems — damaged children, fractured families, overwhelmed schools and social institutions — that will outlast the epidemic and the addicts.
The wave may have crested and passed. Now it's time to take a look at what the tide brought in.