The Biden administration endorsed legislation Tuesday that would end sentencing differences between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
The proposed legislation, titled the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, would “eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and apply it retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced,” according to a legislative proposal. Acting Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Regina LaBelle, affirmed the Biden administration’s support of the EQUAL Act at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, according to testimony.
“The current disparity is not based on evidence yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families, and communities of color.” LaBelle said at the hearing. “The continuation of this sentencing disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end.”
President Joe Biden was originally responsible for the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, in which someone caught distributing five grams of crack cocaine, served the same five-year prison term as someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine. This became known as the “100-1 rule,” The Washington Post reported, and in 2010, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity to 18-to-1.
Eliminating the disparity is something Biden campaigned on during his 2020 run for president and the issue of cocaine sentencing was a recent subject in the Supreme Court, where it ruled unanimously that individuals convicted of certain low-level crack-cocaine offenses are not eligible for resentencing under the First Step Act, a Trump-era law that made some criminal-justice reforms retroactive. The court ruled against Tarahrick Terry, who pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute 3.9 grams of crack cocaine and was sentenced to fifteen and a half years in prison in 2008.
“We now know that this wrong-headed crack-powder disparity has ruined thousands of lives and failed to move us one step closer to ending the scourge of drug addiction in America,” said Democratic Senate Majority Whip and one of the sponsors of the bill, Richard Durbin of Illinois, in a statement to The Washington Post. “Enough.”
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