Biden administration to back bill ending crack, powder cocaine sentence disparity: report
The Biden administration is reportedly set to endorse legislation on Tuesday that aims to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
Regina LaBelle, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, is reportedly planning to announce the administration’s support of a bill that would remove the sentencing imbalance during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of LaBelle’s prepared written testimony.
The bill, dubbed the “Eliminating a Quantifiable Unjust Application of the Law Act,” or the EQUAL Act, would put an end to the disparity in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine and allow individuals who were convicted or sentenced for a federal cocaine offense to be re-sentenced.
“The current disparity is not based on evidence yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families, and communities of color,” LaBelle will reportedly say at the Senate hearing, according to the Post.
“The continuation of this sentencing disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end. Therefore, the administration urges the swift passage of the ‘Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act,’ ” she will continue.
The administration’s backing of the EQUAL Act is especially significant for President Biden, who played a role in establishing the sentencing disparity. The then-senator in 1986 crafted a bill that ultimately helped lead to the imbalance in the sentencing of crack and powder cocaine offenses.
The legislation, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by former President Reagan, included a provision that considered crack cocaine to be significantly worse than powder cocaine, which led to the disproportionate punishment of African Americans, according to the Post.
The law included a five-year minimum sentence for trafficking 500 grams of powder cocaine or five grams or crack, according to the Post. It came to be known as the “100-1 rule.”
Biden disavowed the bill 16 years later, according to the newspaper, saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” He also distanced himself from the legislation on the campaign trail, calling it “a profound mistake” that he wanted to override.
The disparity decreased from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 in 2010 through the Fair Sentencing Act.
The EQUAL Act is co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
The Hill reached out to the White House for confirmation on LaBelle’s testimony.