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Addiction Policy Forum Endorses EQUAL Act

Addiction Policy Forum announced its endorsement of the EQUAL Act, which would end the crack cocaine and powdered cocaine federal sentencing disparity.

H.R. 1693/S. 79, the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act (EQUAL Act) was introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), and Don Bacon (R-NE).

Congress created a sentencing disparity between the treatment of crack cocaine offenses and powdered cocaine offenses in 1986, despite the fact that these substances are two forms of the same drug. As a result of that law, five grams of crack cocaine carried the same mandatory minimum prison sentence as 500 grams of powdered cocaine—an extreme 100-to-1 disparity.

“As an organization that represents patients and families impacted by the disease of addiction, we have seen how the disparity between crack and powder cocaine penalties has acutely impacted communities of color,” shared Jessica Hulsey, CEO of Addiction Policy Forum.

Eighty-one percent (81%) of individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses in 2019 were Black [1], while historically sixty-six percent (66%) of crack cocaine users have been white or Hispanic [2], In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the sentencing disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, and in 2018 the FIRST STEP Act made these changes retroactive. This retroactive application has helped 3,363 people serving crack cocaine sentences with an average sentence reduction of approximately six years. Ninety-one percent (91%) of those who received reductions were Black [3].

“This is a common sense reform that will ensure fair and equitable treatment under the law,” said APF Board Chairman and Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. “This legislation is the next important step in reforming federal sentencing in a way that protects public safety and reduces recidivism.”

Research has also shown that punitive approaches to substance use disorders have disproportionately impacted Black lives. “Incarceration too often leads to isolation, which can exacerbate addiction and trigger relapse, and also raises the risk of early death for a variety of causes. Criminal records also hamper the education, employment opportunities for individuals, reinforcing poverty and limiting opportunities for upward mobility. By passing the EQUAL Act and reducing over-incarceration in federal prisons, Congress would free up resources to support evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders,” explained Hulsey.

Click here for more information and to read the full bill.


[1] U.S. Sentencing Comm’n, Powder Cocaine Trafficking Offenses (FY19),

[2] Palamar, Joseph J et al. “Powder cocaine and crack use in the United States: an examination of risk for arrest and socioeconomic disparities in use.” Drug and alcohol dependence vol. 149 (2015): 108-16. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.01.029

[3] U.S. Sentencing Comm’n, First Step Act of 2018 Resentencing Provisions Retroactivity Data Report (Oct. 2020), First-Step-Act-Retro.pdf.


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