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U.S. House passes bill to end disparities in crack cocaine sentences By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S.A, 2021 is shown. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bill to permanently end the sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder, a policy that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans.

The EQUAL Act (short for Eliminating a Quantifiably Injust Application of the Law) was passed by the House with a vote of 361-66.

Now, the bill is headed to the Senate where it will be considered by criminal justice advocates. The bill had been previously supported by the Justice Department.

These disparities in crack and powder cocaine are due to the war-on-drugs policies of the 1980s.

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Congress passed legislation in 1986 to establish mandatory minimum sentences to drug trafficking offenders. It used a 100:1 ratio to treat crack and cocaine powder offences. A person who was convicted of selling five grams of crack cocaine would be treated similarly to someone who had sold 500 grams.

In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced this ratio to just 18 to 1.

Congress passed the First Step Act in 2018, during the Trump administration. This Act sought to assist lower-level crack cocaine offenders by allowing them to use the more stringent ratio retroactively and reducing their sentences.

The Supreme Court had ruled earlier this year that the sentence reductions could not be applied retroactively to low-level crack cocaine offenders.

U.S. According to data from the U.S. Sentenncing Commission, 87.5 percent of federal prisoners serving time in prison for drug trafficking offences primarily related to crack cocaine were Black. USA Today and Ashbury Park Press conducted an investigation and found that Black drug dealers and users were more often arrested and received harsher sentences than those who are accused of other drug offenses.

If the EQUAL Act is passed, it will permanently eliminate the crack-cocaine gap and retroactively cover those already sentenced to allow people to benefit from the new law.

Kevin Ring of FAMM president, who opposes mandatory minimum sentencing, said: “Thirty five years of the most discriminatory federal policy is enough.”

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