Senate Democrats Introduce Cocaine Sentencing Equality Bill
By Andrew Ramonas | October 16, 2021 7:40 pm

Senate Democrats introduced legislation Thursday that would establish the same sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine and crack offenses.

The Fair Sentencing Act, sponsored by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and nine other Democrats, would end the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine penalties enacted in the 1980s. The bill would also trigger a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of 500 grams of either of the substances.

The decades-old law gives the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of five grams of crack cocaine as it does for the possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine. Democrats have said the law tends to disproportionately harm blacks, because crack is generally used in poorer urban communities.

“The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has contributed to the imprisonment of African Americans at six times the rate of whites and to the United States’ position as the world’s leader in incarcerations,” Durbin said in a statement. “Congress has talked about addressing this injustice for long enough; it’s time for us to act.”

The cosponsors of the bill are Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judiciary crime and drugs subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Judiciary panel members Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) and Al Franken (D-Min.) Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) are also cosponsors.

The House Judiciary Committee approved its version of the legislation in July. Unlike the Senate bill, the House legislation eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for cocaine and crack offenses.

The Justice Department supports Congress’s efforts to eliminate the differences between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said at a House hearing in May that the current sentencing policies are “hard to justify.”

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