Armstrong unveils bill to end federal sentencing disparity for cocaine offenses

U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) on Feb. 17 sponsored bipartisan, bicameral legislation to eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and retroactively apply it to those already convicted or sentenced. 

The Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, H.R. 1062, which Rep. Armstrong introduced with three original cosponsors, including U.S. Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), would allow reduced sentences for those convicted or sentenced for a federal offense involving cocaine base, according to the text of the bill.

“Eliminating the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity is a step toward applying equal justice under the law,” Rep. Armstrong said. “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.”

U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) on Feb. 16 introduced the identical S. 524 with six other original cosponsors in their chamber.

“It is unjust that, for decades, baseless and unscientific sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have contributed to the explosion of mass incarceration in the United States and disproportionately impacted poor people, black and brown people, and people fighting mental illness,” said Sen. Booker. “This bipartisan legislation will help right the wrongs of our nation’s failed War on Drugs and reform our broken criminal justice system.”

After passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, sentencing varied for crack and powder cocaine offenses. For instance, until 2010, someone convicted of distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine served the same five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence as someone convicted of distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine, according to information provided by the lawmakers.

Rep. Armstrong and Sen. Booker originally introduced the EQUAL Act in 2021 to finally eliminate the disparity. The U.S. House of Representatives in September 2021 voted 361-66 to approve the bill, but it stalled in the U.S. Senate, the information says.