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09-1533 DePierre v. U.S.

Controlled Substances
Cocaine base

“[C]ocaine base,” as used in 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1), means not just “crack co-caine,” but cocaine in its chemically basic form.

The most natural reading of “cocaine base” in clause (iii) is cocaine in its chemically basic form—i.e., the molecule found in crack cocaine, freebase, and coca paste. On its plain terms, then, “cocaine base” reaches more broadly than just crack cocaine. In arguing to the contrary, DePierre urges the Court to stray far from the statute’s text, which nowhere contains the term “crack cocaine.” The Government’s reading, on the other hand, follows the words Congress chose to use. DePierre is correct that “cocaine base” is technically redundant—chemically speaking, cocaine is a base. But Congress had good reason to use “cocaine base”—to make clear that clause (iii) does not apply to offenses involving cocaine hydrochloride (i.e., powder cocaine) or other nonbasic cocaine-related substances. At the time the statute was enacted, “cocaine” was commonly used to refer to powder cocaine, and the scientific and medical literature often uses “cocaine” to refer to all cocaine-related substances, including ones that are not chemically basic.

599 F. 3d 25, affirmed.

09-1533 DePierre v. U.S.

Sotomayor, J; Scalia, J., concurring.

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