Congress is again considering eliminating the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine penalties that has disproportionately impacted Black defendants.
The bill passed the House last September with bipartisan support and would apply retroactively if it makes it through the Senate. It is tagged the EQUAL Act, short for Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law,
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., told Axios, “I think Republicans at-large really do care about fairness. And this is clearly the same chemical substance. It’s almost like saying, ‘You vape marijuana and somebody else smokes it, and you should have 18 times more the penalty.’”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., signed onto the EQUAL Act as the 11th Republican to support the bill, which has wide support from Democrats. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described the bill as “a priority.” It passed the House with significant Republican support. President Joe Biden signaled he will sign this bill if it reaches his desk.
Some of the others supporting this legislation are Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; the Congressional Black Caucus, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, and many advocacy groups, the April 6 story reported.
Advocate Janos Marton, national director of Dream Corp Justice, a nonprofit geared toward reducing the prison population, said, “Forty-one states treat crack and powder the same. So in many of our meetings with Republicans who believe in states’ rights, we say, ‘Just look at your own state’s policy; that’s all we’re asking.’”
In 1986 the Anti-Drug Abuse Act triggered the 100- to-1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine for federal minimum sentencing guidelines. T his h as s addled thousands of people, mostly Blacks, with extremely long prison sentences.
In 2010 the Fair Sentencing Act lowered the disparity to 18-to-1, and the 2018 First Step Act made that reform retroactive.
This new bill has received support from the law community, including police chiefs. Passing this bill can help release thousands from prison and help reduce mass incarceration, the story noted.
When he was a senator, Biden co-sponsored the 1986 bill creating the disparity. He has since reversed his stance. The Justice Department also endorsed the EQUAL Act.