As the newly confirmed Sentencing Commission begins to implement important criminal justice reforms like the First Step Act, we urge it to continue the project of criminal justice reform by returning to the issue of the Drug Conversion Tables, particularly with respect to MDMA (or “Ecstasy”). The Drug Conversion Tables play an essential role in determining sentences for drug offenses, the most commonly prosecuted category of federal crimes. These tables have resulted in severe sentencing disparities for similar offenses—they have been widely recognized as often arbitrary and detached from pharmacological evidence, including by the Commission and Congress, at least in the context of crack cocaine.

In 2001, the Sentencing Commission updated the Drug Conversion Tables to treat one gram of MDMA as the equivalent of 500 grams of marijuana for sentencing purposes. This 1:500 ratio increased MDMA penalties significantly as compared to the prior 1:35 ratio. The Commission made this change based on faulty evidence and in spite of the testimony of scientists that even the original 1:35 ratio was too severe. In 2016, the Commission announced a re-examination of its MDMA conversion ratio. Despite its call for public comment and the submission of extensive expert testimony on the ratio’s unsound basis, the Commission never acted nor announced any conclusion with respect to the MDMA re-examination. We hope that the Commission returns to the re-examination it commendably chose to begin long before it lost quorum.

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