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February 18, 2023

Renewed bipartisan effort to end the federal crack/powder sentencing disparity via the EQUAL Act

During the last Congress, I became way too optimistic about the prospect of passage of the EQUAL Act to entirely eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity. But after the US House voted overwhelmingly, 361-66, to pass the EQUAL Act and after the Senate version secured 11 GOP sponsors, I really thought nearly four decades of a misguided sentencing structure could be coming to an end.  But, as detailed in posts here and here from the first half of 2022, opposition from some key Republican Senators prevented the bill from getting to the desk of President Biden. 

I am now inclined to be much less optimistic about the EQUAL Act's chance in the new Congress.  But I am still pleased to see bipartisan efforts continuing, as evidenced by this new press release from Senator Cory Booker.  Here are some details:

Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, and Dick Durbin (D-IL), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Representatives Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the House Democratic Leader, announced the reintroduction of the bipartisan Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, legislation to eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and apply it retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced. 

Joining Booker and Durbin as original cosponsors on the EQUAL Act in the Senate are Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Rand Paul (R-KY).  Joining Armstrong (R-ND) and Jeffries (D-NY) as original cosponsors on the EQUAL Act in the House are Representatives Don Bacon (R-NE) and Bobby Scott (D-VA).

The sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, at one point as high as 100 to 1, helped fuel the mass incarceration epidemic.  According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in Fiscal Year 2021, 77.6% of crack cocaine trafficking offenders were Black, whereas most powder cocaine trafficking offenders were either white or Hispanic....

"Eliminating the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity is a step toward applying equal justice under the law,” said Representative Armstrong. “The EQUAL Act is sound, bipartisan criminal justice reform, that received overwhelming support in the House last Congress. It’s long overdue that we pass this bill and finally end the disparity to make a real difference for families across the nation.”...


After the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses differed vastly.  For instance, until 2010, someone convicted of distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine served the same 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentence as someone convicted of distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine.  Over the years, this 100:1 sentencing disparity has been widely criticized as lacking scientific justification. Furthermore, the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity has disproportionately impacted people of color. 

The Fair Sentencing Act, introduced by Senator Durbin, passed in 2010 during the Obama administration and reduced the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1.  In 2018, Senators Booker and Durbin and Representative Jeffries were instrumental in crafting the First Step Act, which made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. 

Booker, Durbin, Armstrong, and Jeffries first introduced the EQUAL Act to eliminate the disparity once and for all in 2021.  In September 2021, the legislation passed the House with a wide bipartisan margin, 361-66.  In the Senate, the legislation ultimately attracted 11 Republican and 24 Democratic cosponsors.

The full text of the legislation can be viewed here.

A few of many prior posts on the EQUAL Act:

February 18, 2023 at 12:02 PM | Permalink


I too wish that Congress would pass a law that finally ends the crack/powder cocaine disparity.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 19, 2023 1:06:18 AM

Perhaps the disparity is too large, but a disparity is warranted because of the differences between the two.

That African-Americans are more likely to abuse crack and get longer sentences is not “racism.”

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 19, 2023 3:04:32 PM

TarlsQtr --

There you go again. Where's your compassion? Drug sentences need to be lowered. Indeed, they need to be eliminated. When we get rid of them, whatever inhibitions now exist on drug use will disappear, so more drugs will get used. This will be good for society because, as we know, drugs help people build happy, healthy, wholesome, productive lives.

I mean they do.........................don't they?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 20, 2023 1:33:47 PM


Those street zombies on the streets of San Francisco sure seem happy!

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 20, 2023 10:04:57 PM


With respect, I am providing you just ONE of many sites reflecting the positive results of Portugal's decriminalization of drugs.

If you care to use 'the google',
you will be pleased to find a plethora of reliable sites reporting on Portugal's 'experiment'.

I would think that the both of you, as well as others of similar bent, will be elated to hear such GOOD news. True?

"Then & Now: Portugal's Drug Decriminalization"


Posted by: SG | Feb 21, 2023 4:28:11 AM

SG --

Now let's see. Portugal legalizes drugs. The other approximately 190 countries in the world don't, including all of Portugal's neighbors, which have had many years to examine the results so near their borders. Many, many countries have harsher drug laws than we do, including most nations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

You can have Portugal and I'll take the rest of mankind.

P.S. Do you agree with your buddy Mr. Lynch that the world would be better if I weren't in it? Maybe some drug gang could "deal with" me, no?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 21, 2023 2:43:28 PM


Just wondering if you know the amount of money that the US government funnels to foreign countries for the purpose of drug interdiction, as well as lobbyists paying $$ to legislators who will keep in place a system of prohibition and draconian penalties while propping up their own prison-industrial complex, just like here in the good ol’ USofA? Millions or billions? Or do you believe that’s just ‘nonsense’ and easily disproven as ‘soft on crime left wing propaganda’?

Posted by: SG | Feb 21, 2023 4:00:37 PM


Choosing Portugal is an example is like choosing the richest and peaceful neighborhood to determine criminal policy for an entire country.

Portugal has no major cities, is homogenous, and a population of what, 10,000,000? To pretend we can learn much from them is risible. I say this mostly tongue in cheek, but Chicago probably has more gang members than Lisbon has citizens.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 21, 2023 5:41:05 PM

SG --

Just wondering if you think it's a smart idea for me to respond to you while you just walk right past the things I addressed to you, e.g., that virtually the entire world has drug prohibition, much of it harsher than in the US, and my question whether you agreed with Keith Lynch that the world would be better off if I were dead.

Do you think it's a one-way street? Think again.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 21, 2023 5:50:37 PM


Could it possibly be that Portugal enjoys rich and peaceful neighborhoods as a DIRECTE RESULT of their drug decriminalization policies? Could it possibly be that the enormous amounts of money NOT spent on drug enforcement, prisons, courts, prosecutors, correctional officers, etc etc. is instead directed towards education, prevention and rehabilitation programs, and other left-leaning soft-on-crime policies not directed towards the American War on Drugs? Could this then possibly result in the proliferation of rich and peaceful neighborhoods?

Posted by: SG | Feb 21, 2023 5:52:50 PM

SG --

Ummmmmmmm.........SG.........The United States, Germany, England, France, Japan and a host of others have many, many more rich and peaceful neighborhoods than Portugal, and all of them have drug prohibition.

Got anything else?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 21, 2023 6:11:43 PM


It’s not like Portugal resembled the south side of Chicago before decriminalization, so I’m not sure what point you are making.

And we have tried de facto decriminalization in many of our major cities, such as San Francisco. No thank you.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 21, 2023 6:29:52 PM

Bill, (and Tarls)

No, I do not think the world would be better off without your presence amongst us, Bill. I hope you live long and prosper. Nor do I believe that the world would be better off without those souls presently on death row. We all have a value.

Secondly, as to the U.S. and all other listed countries that continue to wage America's "War on Drugs", I offer this: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblins of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." RWE

This listing of other countries does not prove that the 'Nixon Concept' is (or has been) the most efficacious, cost-effective and/or morally just policy that humankind can possibly concoct. As we speak, drug use is on the rise (e.g., opiods/fentanyl, meth, heroin).

After 50+ years, $1 Trillion spent, countless lives wasted in prisons - why has this "War" not yet been won? (sorry Bill..no..it's not due to the soft-on-crime-liberals and defense attorneys).

I'm sure by now you are familiar with (Nixon hatchet man) John Ehrlichman's 2016 admission:

“You want to know what this [War on Drugs] was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

This of course led to employment opportunities around the world for those who enjoy arresting and prosecuting these targets. This then gave rise to the prison-industrial complex, coupled with an ever-increasing numbers of police, correctional officers, probation/parole officers, bailiffs, judges, their clerks..let's not forget defense attorneys...and AUSA's.

Why ignore and dismiss the positive results of decriminalization of drugs? It has led to the institution of scientifically-sound rehabilitation programs, job training, education and re-education programs, social support systems, and the like. Not important to you? Doesn't punish enough? What?

Posted by: SG | Feb 22, 2023 4:20:30 AM

SG --

"No, I do not think the world would be better off without your presence amongst us, Bill. I hope you live long and prosper. Nor do I believe that the world would be better off without those souls presently on death row. We all have a value."

Thanks, I guess, although it's a bit disconcerting to be valued for the same reason murderers on death row are valued.

As to the remainder of your post, the War on Drugs was principally the work of Congress (the CSA of 1970), then controlled by Democrats, although it was supported by Pres. Nixon. It has also been supported more-or-less continuously by Presidents and Congresses controlled by both parties over 50 years.

A consensus that long and that strong embracing so many different political and ideological outlooks over five decades cannot seriously be dismissed without more of a substantive argument than you're making.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 22, 2023 6:27:17 PM


You're welcome.

Putting that aside, my response to your unpersuasive argument in support of the "War on Drugs" and other questionable policies:

Just because these poorly-thought out policies have been 'on the books' for long periods of time does NOT prove that they are in our nation's best interest, morally just, efficacious, cost-effective, or even necessary. Try arguing the merits instead.

Once again, "A foolish consistency..." etc. You seem to be turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to this point.

Crack cocaine penalties and enhancements have been with us for decades now. Slavery was 'on the books' until 1865. Miscegenation was on the books in some states for decades. Some other Jim Crow laws are still 'on the books'. Sex offender registries - another ridiculous policy generated by hysteria, grandstanding and profiteering. There are a host of other unnecessary "tough on crime" laws that are still with us resulting in expenditures of huge amounts of taxpayers' dollars, and lives wasted in prisons.

I would love to hear you discus the MERITS of at least some of these policies, not the "oh we've done it for so long, they MUST be good. And look at all the other countries. And after all, POLITICIANS passed these laws, which is further proof that I'm right". Nonesense.

Posted by: SG | Feb 22, 2023 8:20:36 PM


You have the burden of proof backward. It’s the person looking to overturn long accepted norms who has responsibility to meet the burden. It’s a case of “Chesterton’s Fence.”

Bill is correct. Your argument is incredibly weak. You, and others in your camp, seem to love the perfectionist fallacy. No, the “War on Drugs” is not won, but that does not mean it isn’t worth fighting. You enjoy citing costs of fighting the war, but fail to acknowledge the huge cost of doing nothing. Perhaps even more important is the decision of who pays the cost of fighting a drug war (or not). Personally, I hold the life of an old woman getting mugged as more valuable than that of the drug-addled thug hitting her on the head.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 22, 2023 9:26:41 PM


"No, the 'War on Drugs' is not won, but that does not mean it isn’t worth fighting".

And NO, you and Bill are not right just because you say so.

(By the way, are you really "Bill" and write under the name "Tarls" just for kicks? It very well could be that you amd Bill are one and the same person. Tarls never disagreeing with Bill, and Bill never disagreeing with Trals - very, very suspicious indeed).

As usual, "you and Bill" misstate my arguments and/or ignore many of them altogether (a clear indication of weak counter-points).

I never said "Do Nothing". Just more of your nonesense. I DID say that there are MORE EFFECTIVE APPROACHES such as "decriminalization" as well as policies that emphasize prevention and rehabilitation, job training, education, and a number of other efforts (please re-read what I had posted last and you may notice this). Such policies would slice into the recidivism rates for addicts which currently is above 50%.

Or are you saying that "you and Bill" would rather continue to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate the same addicts over and over and over again, and then proudly proclaim "Oh look! We are champions of law and order!! We are protecting society!!! We are right and you are wrong" The oft-repeated word "nonesense" is inadequate when describing this tripe.

If "you and Bill" can gather the courage, please respond directly to those points and not just the ones you are hearing only in your own collective heads.

Thanks :)

Posted by: SG | Feb 22, 2023 10:06:17 PM


Funny. You go on a diatribe about misstatements, or some other nonsense, and begin with:

“And NO, you and Bill are not right just because you say so.”

I never said otherwise, but you chose to “misstate” my position. What I said was that in cases of long held established practices, it’s incumbent on the one promoting massive change to bear the burden of proving a better solution. Again, “Chesterton’s Fence.”

You go on to discuss “MORE EFFECTIVE APPROACHES,” without providing evidence other than shaky results from a homogeneous country with the population of one of our metropolitan areas. Nor is it true that these approaches have not and are not being tried in the US. There are things like drug courts, job training, education, and rehab centers all over this country. Drug users are often offered these options.

Your posts sound like they come from a SanFran councilman, yet look at SanFran itself. Let’s just say I’m not sold on the approach.

“Such policies would slice into the recidivism rates for addicts which currently is above 50%.”

If you take a look, that’s about the exact same rate of relapse after rehab. That’s not a point in your favor. Lol

And, yes, Bill and I are the same person, suffering from bipolar syndrome. Unfortunately, he’s the side who gets to have a winter home on the beach.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 22, 2023 11:53:05 PM

TarlsQtr --

It's not exactly on the beach; it's up the mountain about 350 feet above sea level. Maybe you need to come out to have a look? But I will confess that my summer home IS on the beach. But with it all, you have the advantage on me: I don't have a teenager who's twice as smart.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 23, 2023 12:01:21 AM

SG --

You're losing the drug war argument 190-1 among nations and, domestically, in every Congress and with every President for 50 years -- and it's your OPPONENTS who need to reconsider their position???

Far out!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 23, 2023 12:04:33 AM


Repeating the same unpersuasive argument that "everyone is doing it, so it MUST be great!" does little to prove anything. You obviously enjoy your 'foolish consistencies' (a.k.a. - the hobgoblins of little minds).

Just admit that your War is a failure; that, at its foundation is pure racism and class warfare as admitted to by Nixon hit-man Ehrlichman.

I pointed out repeatedly that the US of A offers large monetary incentives to lure other countries to join in. It is NOT because they actually believe in the Nixon B.S.
Thus, these efforts continue with no well-defined and attainable goals. And with no end in sight (much like the Iraq War), we'll continue to throw good money after bad.

Do you really believe that your "War" will end anytime soon? Would you care to make a prognostication as to when? 50 years? 100 years? It's far more likely that it will never end, which I believe is what you Drug War Advocates truly desire.

Posted by: SG | Feb 23, 2023 9:06:57 PM

SG --

"Just admit that your War is a failure; that, at its foundation is pure racism and class warfare as admitted to by Nixon hit-man Ehrlichman."

As I've told you before -- and you ignore because you have not answer -- the foundation of the drug war, the CSA of 1970 -- was adopted (overwhelmingly) by a DEMOCRATIC Congress that was hardly under Ehrlichman's control. And was continued by other Democratic Congresses.

I guess you just can't handle these facts.

"Do you really believe that your "War" will end anytime soon?"

No, I don't. Neither will the wars against murder, rape, robbery, hunger, disease, ignorance, etc., etc. Like drugs and drug addiction, all these afflictions harm human beings and none is likely to be wiped out in our lifetimes if ever. So should we quit fighting them too? When the fight is hard, give up and get stoned? Is that it?

Your view that the world would be better off with easier access to fentanyl, heroin, meth, and your other favorites could not be called the hobgoblin of little minds. It could, however, be called completely nuts, which is what it is.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 24, 2023 8:13:43 PM


Nowhere did I state that I advocate for the widespread dissemination of narcotics. (I am reminded how senstive you become whenever you are misquoted, or your statements are mis-characterized. 'Hissy fit' is an apt description. No? So why do it yourself?)

What I DID say was to "DECRIMINALIZE" small amounts of narcotics, ('personal use' amounts) and I pointed to Portugal, and the 21 States that have decriminalized marijuana and some psychedelics. You conveniently choose to ignore these successful policies. Why?

And guess what? With Portugal and these 21 states decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, the earth did not stop rotating on its axis, mountains did not crumble into the seas, and violent crime rates have actually gone DOWN. There are many more happy people on this earth now as a result. OH THE HORROR!!

Drug rehabilitation and harm reduction, when done properly, can be vastly more effective than the failed criminalization model. I have mentioned the 50%+ recidivism rate for incarcerated drug offenders, a critical statistic which you seem to conveniently ignore. Why? This recidivism rate is your "report card". If I were a college professor, I would mark the project an "F".

It certainly seems that you are dedicated to the proposition of doing the same thing over and over and over again, expecting different results (criminalize, arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, parole/probation, rinse and repeat)...or perhaps you don't expect different results, and instead are quite satisfied and pleased with the status quo?? That would be very sad if true. But I do not seek to put words in your mouth as I am aware of your profound sensitivies.

And pointing to the Democrats as the root of all this evil is, to me, laughable. Where were you in June 1971, when Nixon stood before the microphones and Kleig lights, proudly announcing, in his stern "I am not a crook" voice, that he and his mob are instituting this phony "War on Drugs" (here you should re-read the Ehrlichman admissions)?? Why are you ignoring this?? I just don't get it. Don't any of you conservatives EVER take responsibility for the failures of the Right? Again, trying to blame the Dems is just too silly. Please stop.

Oh by the way, in 2020 the Democratic House of Representatives proudly passed the "Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act" (referred to as the MORE Act) which would DECRIMINALIZE personal-use amounts of marijuana. The Democrats also aim to expunge past marijuana convictions, and seek to tax marijuana to reinvest in those economically neglected communities targeted by Nixon's 50 year+ War on Drugs. And it's the Dems who seek to address the cocaine/crack sentencing disparities. Not so much the GOPers. As the EQUAL bill made its way through the Senate, "opposition from some key Republican Senators prevented the bill from getting to the desk of President Biden". Go figure.

And let's not forget Oregon. Oregon has decriminalized drugs, and has gone from the old failed "criminaliztion model" to one of "public health" (harm reduction, rehabilitation). Recent statistics show that Oregon has gone from a state previously ranked in the top 10 for "drug use", to 13th. As Oregon redirects their funding from prisons, police, courts and prosecutors to one of public health, they are beginning to reap many benefits of their new policies. (I am confident that you will seek and find news articles in right-wing publications, such as the 'fair and balanced, and honest' Fox News Network, seeking to dismiss and criticize these recent findings. Save your efforts as I have already reviewed them).

So Bill and Tarls, "Foolish consistencies" seem to be your model, not mine. I'm advocating for new approaches instead of the proven failures. I am hopeful that you folks will join in these efforts someday soon.

Posted by: SG | Feb 24, 2023 11:13:01 PM

SG --

Last year, our country had over 100,000 overdose deaths, a record. A majority were linked to fentanyl.

When you decriminalize X, you reduce the barriers to getting X, and therefore more of X will be purchased and consumed. The more fentanyl that gets purchased and consumed, the more OD deaths we're going to have. It's just that simple.

I don't want more drug deaths, and therefore want the barriers to getting fentanyl raised not lowered. If you'd prefer more deaths, fine, you're entitled to your opinion. There are tens of thousands of families in this country who lost a son or daughter last year who beg to differ.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 27, 2023 12:22:02 AM


Thanks for the response. It is appreciated.

You wrote:
"When you decriminalize X, you reduce the barriers to getting X, and therefore more of X will be purchased and consumed".

Is this an opinion, or is it derived from any recent scientific studies? If so, I would appreciate links or references to such. Thanks.

One area we can examine is that of marijuana. As marijuana has been decriminalized in 21 states, has there been a surge in marijuana use? This may be a means to test out your theory. I am certainly open to the possibility that I may be wrong, and you right. Any study that you can point to that would prove the theory?

And by the way, I do not wish for any more deaths either. How we go about reducing death rates from drug overdoses is the issue. I am not persudaded that the criminalization of small quantities of narcotics is the most effective, nor the most cost-effective, approach.

Posted by: SG | Feb 27, 2023 5:46:17 AM

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