USA: VA senator introduces legislation to eliminate federal cocaine sentencing disparity

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, alongside his colleagues, has introduced the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act. The bipartisan legislation aims to eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and apply it retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced.

Currently, statutory criminal penalties for crack cocaine are harsher than those for powder cocaine, despite there being no pharmacological difference or scientific evidence that suggests that crack cocaine is more addictive or dangerous. The EQUAL Act would ensure that both substances carry the same penalties.

The disparity in cocaine sentencing dates back to 1986 when Congress passed legislation mandating harsher minimum sentences for individuals convicted of distributing or possessing crack cocaine compared to powder cocaine. A person convicted of distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine served the same mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years as someone convicted of distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine, creating a 100:1 sentencing disparity.

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