Federal law has treated crack cocaine worse than powder cocaine for decades. From the 1980s until 2010, the law treated 500 grams of powder cocaine the same as five grams of crack cocaine. Starting in 2010, the law treated 90 grams of powder cocaine the same as five grams of crack cocaine. This was better yet still unfair. But yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would treat crack cocaine the same as powder cocaine for good.
With a 361-66 vote, the House approved the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act. This bill, known more commonly as the “EQUAL Act,” had support from both political parties in the House. It also has support from President Joe Biden and the Department of Justice.
Before it becomes a law, though, it must pass in the U.S. Senate. The good news is that there are reports that the bill “has a chance of passing.” This could also help jumpstart other criminal justice reform measures.
The EQUAL Act aims to fix a racially discriminatory law from 1986.
The EQUAL Act is important for many reasons. But one stands out more than most: ending racism. The law that started treating 500 grams of powder cocaine like five grams of crack cocaine is the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
This law was passed during the so-called “War on Drugs.” It included several provisions, including the problems with cocaine sentencing, mandatory-minimums provisions and more. And research indicates that these parts of the act harmed African-Americans more than anyone else.
According to government data, approximately 87.5 percent of the people in prison time for drug-trafficking offenses involving crack cocaine are Black. Another investigation found that Black Americans were arrested more often and faced harsher sentences than their white counterparts.
For now, it’s hard to know how the EQUAL Act will turn out. But it’s been almost 40 years since the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. So fixing the problems with cocaine sentencing has been a long time coming.