29 Sep U.S. House Passes Bill to End Cocaine Sentencing Disparity
For decades, the U.S. justice system has treated offenses involving crack cocaine significantly more harsh than those involving powder cocaine. From the 1980s until 2010, the disparity featured a 100:1 ratio. This meant that 500 grams of powder cocaine got you the same punishment as five grams of crack cocaine. In 2010, the disparity shrunk to a still-unfair ratio of 18:1. For the past decade-plus, 90 grams of powder cocaine got you the same punishment as five grams of crack cocaine. Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would permanently end the cocaine sentencing disparity.
With a bipartisan 361-66 vote, the House approved the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (“EQUAL Act”). In addition to passing with bipartisan support in the House, the EQUAL Act also has support from President Joe Biden and the Department of Justice.
And, perhaps most importantly, Reuters’ Sarah N. Lynch reports that the bill “has a chance of passing” in the U.S. Senate. At a time when bipartisanship in D.C. feels almost impossible to find, the potential that the House bill will finally end the cocaine disparity has the potential to jumpstart other criminal justice reform measures.
The EQUAL Act reduces the disparity from 100:1 in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s to 1:1 today.
The EQUAL Act also aims to right a decades-long wrong with racist origins. The 100:1 disparity in cocaine sentencing is a product of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Passed during the so-called “War on Drugs,” the Anti-Drug Abuse Act implemented numerous measures that have proved ineffective—and even worse.
According to U.S. Sentencing Commission data, approximately 87.5 percent of the people serving prison time for drug-trafficking offenses involving crack cocaine are Black. An investigation by the Ashbury Park Press and USA Today similarly found that Black defendants in criminal cases were arrested more frequently and faced stricter prison sentences than their white counterparts.
“Thirty-five years of the most discriminatory policy in federal law is enough,” Kevin Ring, FAMM’s President, told Lynch. He’s right.