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Advocates Push to End Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparities

Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, is urged to advance a bill that would eliminate the longstanding sentencing disparities in place for people found guilty of possessing crack cocaine versus powder cocaine, New York Daily News reports. The bill, known as the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law, or EQUAL Act, seeks to eliminate the practice of penalizing individuals convicted of possession of crack with longer prison sentences than those convicted of possession of powder cocaine. Last summer, Schumer prioritized the legislation, but the bill didn’t get a Senate floor vote in last year’s congressional session. Now, advocates are requesting he push for the bill once more, with more than 30 groups demanding he advance it before the end of this summer’s session. “While we appreciate Sen. Schumer’s support for the EQUAL Act, the reality is that Democrats have now controlled the Senate Judiciary [Committee] for three years without advancing any meaningful criminal justice reform,” said Janos Marton, vice president of political strategy for “Now is the time to do that.”

If enacted into law, the new provision would not only apply to cocaine possession cases moving forward but would automatically apply to already tried cases that resulted in prison sentences, opening the door to the possibility of an early release for many who remain in custody. The disparity in who is arrested for what type of cocaine is clear. In 2020, 77% of crack cocaine trafficking offenders were Black, while 6% were white, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. And crack users reported a higher rate of lifetime arrest or several recent arrests compared to powder cocaine users, a 2015 study by researchers at New York University found. Under the federal drug law, as it currently stands, 28 grams of crack cocaine and 500 grams of powder cocaine trigger the same sentencing guidelines. While the federal government has worked over the years to reduce some of the disparities in sentencing, advocates say it has not gone nearly far enough. In their letter to Schumer, dated July 9, groups that include the NAACP’s New York State Conference, the Legal Aid Society, and asked that Schumer “demonstrate the EQUAL Act’s importance once again by asking the Judiciary Committee to advance the bill and publicly prioritize it.”


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