WASHINGTON — President Trump renewed his call for drug traffickers to get the death penalty on Monday, saying he wants to emulate countries with “no tolerance” policies that execute drug dealers.
“We can have all the blue-ribbon committees we want, but if we don’t get tough on drug dealers we’re wasting our time,” he said in New Hampshire, a state whose overdose rate is twice the national average. “And that toughness includes the death penalty.”
Trump did not give any specifics about how his administration would enforce the death penalty, but White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Air Force One that the death penalty would apply to “very specific high-level cases.” And domestic policy adviser Andrew Bremberg told reporters Sunday that the Trump administration would pursue capital punishment “where it’s appropriate under current law.”
Current law allows the death penalty for drug-related cases, usually when they involve a murder by drive-by shooting, with firearm offense or of a police officer.
But there are also drug kingpin provisions that allow the death penalty for traffickers who generate more than $20 million in drug sales. It’s unclear whether those provisions are constitutional, however, following a 2008 Supreme Court decision that struck down the death penalty in cases where “the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in the victim’s death.”
That case, Kentucky v. Louisiana, applied to child rape and other crimes against individuals. The Supreme Court left open the question of whether the death penalty could constitutionally apply to crimes against the state, like drug kingpin activity.
Even so, the federal death penalty is rarely carried out, and questions about the use of drugs used for lethal injections have slowed executions nationally. There are 61 federal convicts on death row — about one-fifth of them convicted of a drug-related murder — but the last federal execution happened exactly 15 years ago Sunday.
Trump argued that drug traffickers are killing people with powerful synthetic opioids just as if they shot them with a gun. “Some of these drug dealers will kill thousands of people in their lifetimes, and destroy the lives of many more people than that,” he said. “And yet if you kill one person you get the death penalty or you go to jail for life.”
Over the past several weeks, Trump has talked approvingly of regimes in China, the Philippines and Singapore that execute drug dealers — in some cases without due process.
“I won’t mention names, but you know the countries l’m taking about,” he said Monday. “Take a look at some of these countries where they don’t play games. They don’t have a drug problem.”
More: Congress prepares to take on opioid crisis amid evidence the epidemic is growing worse
In his speech in Manchester, N.H., Monday, Trump pledged to reduce over-prescription of opioids, and research less addictive painkillers. And he suggested that the federal government may join state attorneys general in suing drug companies found to have used deceptive sales practices to push addictive medicines.
“Whether you are a dealer or doctor or trafficker or manufacturer and you break the law and peddle these deadly poisons, we will find you, we will charge you and we will hold you accountable,” Trump said. “We have got to get tough. This isn’t about nice anymore.”
Trump also emphasized prevention, including a public awareness campaign — called “The Crisis Next Door” — to discourage painkillers abuse and get people to safely dispose of unneeded medication.
And he said his administration would work to make naloxone — an anti-overdose drug marketed under the brand name Narcan — available to school nurses, police and firefighters.
Over more than half an hour, Trump also went on extended asides about the need for a wall along the Mexican border, an end to so-called “sanctuary cities,” prescription drug prices and “right to try” legislation to allow terminally ill people to take experimental medicines.
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