Death Penalty For Drug Dealers May Become A Reality In The US

By Keri Blakinger 03/19/18

There is speculation that Trump will propose the controversial measure this week. 

Donald Trump

The Trump administration is putting the final touches on a plan that may include a controversial new measure to combat the opioid crisis: capital punishment for drug dealers. 

The leaked proposal—which could be made public as soon as Monday—would leave the nation’s harshest punishment on the table for those convicted in cases where opioid-selling or trafficking is “directly responsible for death,” according to Politico.

Details are still scarce, and some experts have already panned it as a “not serious” idea—but at least one lawmaker preemptively ponied up support after news of the plan broke Thursday.

“I’m all in on the capital punishment side for those offenses that would warrant that,” said Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican. “Including drug cases. Yep.”

But congressional Democrats offered a different take. 

“We are still paying the costs for one failed 'War on Drugs,' and now President Trump is drawing up battle plans for another," Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts told Politico. "We will not incarcerate or execute our way out of the opioid epidemic."

In recent weeks, Trump publicly floated the idea, emphasizing the need for “toughness” in drug policy. 

“The drug dealers, the drug pushers are—they’re really doing damage. They’re really doing damage,” he said earlier this month at the White House Opioid Summit, according to The Hill.

“Some countries have a very, very tough penalty—the ultimate penalty. And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do. So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties.”

Drug policy reformers decried the suggestion, and instead touted public health solutions like needle exchanges and safe injection sites

“Rather than helping people at risk of overdose and their families, Trump is cynically using the overdose crisis to appeal to the worst instincts of his base, and pushing for measures that will only make the crisis worse,” Drug Policy Alliance executive director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno said in a statement

“If this administration wants to save lives, it needs to drop its obsession with killing and locking people up, and instead focus resources on what works: harm reduction strategies and access to evidence-based treatment and prevention.”

Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, suggested that the harsher approach wouldn’t necessarily have the intended effect—or be effective at all. 

“There’s already pretty stiff penalties for this, so it’s not clear that we need a death penalty as well,” he told The Hill. “I think it’s counterproductive, I don’t think it’s useful to the opioid crisis. It’s likely not a workable solution; it’s not a practical solution. It’s either going to be drawn up so broad it’s going to be unconstitutional or it’s going to be so narrow that it’s useless.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.