New poll on historic “EQUAL Act” shows overwhelming support from Utah voters

Just days after a rare, overwhelmingly bipartisan 36-5 vote by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to advance the “EQUAL Act” to a full House floor vote, the Libertas Institute, Utah’s premiere conservative free-market think tank, is releasing a poll showing a whopping 73% of Utah voters (including nearly 70% of strongly conservative and Trump voters) support the proposal, which would eliminate the 18-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, often called one of the most egregious racial injustices in America’s drug policy. 

“It appears the EQUAL Act, which would finally and fully eliminate one of the worst vestiges of injustice in America’s drug policy, is not only sound policy, it also makes for very smart politics,” said Molly Davis, Policy Analyst at Libertas Institute. “Just as Utah voters dislike proposals like ‘defund the police,’ they also don’t want to return to the failed ‘war on drugs.’ They know all too well that archaic, unfairly harsh penalties for low-level drug offenders at the federal level simply created more criminals rather than better citizens, wasting billions in taxpayer dollars. And when 73% of Utah voters support this common-sense, bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, our U.S. Senators and Representatives would be wise to follow the lead of Rep. Owens, and announce their support for the EQUAL Act as soon as possible. It’s just a no-brainer.”

Utah’s own Representative Burgess Owens (R-04) is already a co-sponsor of the “EQUAL Act,” which has more forty Republican and Democratic co-sponsors from all over the country. The legislation could go the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives before Congress breaks for the August recess. The bill also received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, testified in support of the legislation.

The new poll, commissioned by the Justice Action Network, a bipartisan criminal justice reform advocacy organization, was conducted by conservative pollster Robert Blizzard of Public Opinion Strategies, one of the nation’s leading public opinion research firms, which polls for a quarter of the Republican Representatives in the U.S. House, and a dozen Republican U.S. Senators.

Among the key findings in the poll:

  • Under the current criminal justice system, crack cocaine has a mandatory minimum prison sentence penalty that is 18 times stronger than the penalty for powder cocaine. When Utah voters were asked whether they would support a proposal being debated in Washington to treat crack cocaine the same as powder cocaine…

73% support this proposal.

  • Significantly, 69% of voters who identify as “strong conservatives” support this proposal, as well as 69% of voters who identify as “Trump Voters.”
  • When informed that the American Medical Association finds no chemical difference between crack and powder cocaine, support among Utah voters for eliminating the sentencing disparity between the two drugs leaps to an eye-popping 86% support, including 86% of Republicans, 88% of Independents, and 85% of Democrats.  
  • By a margin of more than two-to-one, Utah voters say the War on Drugs has sent too many low-level offenders to jail and prison and cost too much money, and 79% of voters agree that the federal government should focus more on treatment than prosecution of people with substance use disorders.

Rob Blizzard, veteran pollster of the conservative polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, noted the strong support among conservative voters:

“Regardless of how you feel about former President Trump, it’s hard to deny the positive impact he had on the bipartisan criminal justice reform movement, and you can absolutely see that goodwill in the overwhelmingly positive polling numbers for the “EQUAL Act,” said Blizzard. “I would tell any candidate for elected office, particularly those at the federal level, that supporting this legislation can only better your position with Utah voters, especially with key constituencies such as suburban women.”

Crack and powder cocaine are nearly identical — the chemical differences between the two drugs are extremely minor. Yet, the federal government still treats them vastly differently when it comes to sentencing individuals for possession. It started with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 where the federal government established a 100:1 sentencing disparity. This means a person convicted for possessing crack would face a much harsher sentence than those caught with powder cocaine. This changed in 2010, to a retroactive 18:1 with the Fair Sentencing Act signed by President Trump, lessening the disparity significantly. But it’s still not fair. The EQUAL Act  builds on the bipartisan work of those previous reforms by fully eliminating the disparity and applying retroactively.”