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Drug sentencing disparities are the focus of new bill

On Behalf of | Oct 19, 2021 | Criminal Defense

In previous blog posts, we have discussed how the type of drug and the amount of a drug can have a considerable influence on the severity of charges individuals face. However, what if the substances are essentially the same, but result in widely different charges?

For many years, that has been the case with incidents involving crack and powder cocaine. Now, lawmakers are looking to change that.

Report: Federal lawmakers aim to eliminate sentencing disparities

At the end of September, the House of Representatives passed the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act (EQUAL Act.) The goal of this act is to reduce the significant differences in sentencing between charges involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine. These disparities have been in place for nearly 40 years.

What should individuals know about this potential change? There are a few important details. This law would:

  • Eliminate ratios: For years, law enforcement used a ratio of 100 to 1 when it came to powder cocaine charges versus crack cocaine charges. This essentially meant that an individual possessing one gram of crack cocaine would face the same charges as someone possessing 100 grams of powder. This ratio decreased over the years, but the EQUAL Act would eliminate ratios altogether.
  • Retroactive application: Many individuals – particularly people of color – are currently serving long sentences for crack cocaine charges. The EQUAL Act would apply retroactively, reducing these sentences significantly.

The bill must still pass the Senate, but many believe that the EQUAL Act has high chances of becoming law.

What about charges in North Carolina?

If the EQUAL Act becomes law, the changes in sentencing will apply at a federal level. This is good news for individuals who face federal drug charges. However, will the system here in North Carolina change as well?

Under state law, cocaine is a Schedule II drug, which could result in penalties involving:

  • Misdemeanor charges, a $2,000 fine and two years in prison for possession
  • Felony charges, fines between $50,000 and $250,000 and ten years in prison for trafficking

While the schedules do not differentiate between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, there is a history of unfair sentencing at the state level. However, in February, the attorney general supported the First Step Act and called for action to allow individuals to obtain fair resentencing for crack cocaine charges.

It seems that changing these sentencing processes is a priority at both the federal and state levels. This change is a critical step for the future and the justice system overall.