Trump calls for death penalty to ‘get tough’ on drug pushers
The president was speaking in New Hampshire, a state ravaged by opioids.
Donald Trump has called for stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including embracing a tactic employed by some of the global strongmen he admires: the death penalty.
“Toughness is the thing that they most fear,” the president said as he unveiled a long-awaited plan to combat the national scourge of opioid drug addiction.
He had travelled to New Hampshire, a state ravaged by opioids, which is also an early marker for the re-election campaign he has already announced.
He called for broadening awareness about drug addiction while expanding access to proven treatment and recovery efforts, but the backbone of his plan is to toughen the punishment for those caught trafficking highly addictive drugs.
Other countries don't play games. But the ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty Donald Trump
“This isn’t about nice any more,” Mr Trump said. “This is about winning a very, very tough problem and if we don’t get very tough on these dealers it’s not going to happen folks. I want to win this battle.”
The president said that if a person in the US can get the death penalty or life in prison for shooting one person, a similar punishment should be given to a drug dealer who potentially kills thousands.
Mr Trump has long spoken approvingly about countries like Singapore that have fewer issues with drug addiction because they harshly punish their dealers.
During a trip to Asia last autumn, he did not publicly rebuke Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who authorised extrajudicial killings of his nation’s drug dealers.
Outside a local fire station that Mr Trump visited before the speech, someone compared the leaders with a sign that said “Donald J Duterte”.
“Drug traffickers kill so many thousands of our citizens every year,” Mr Trump said.
“That’s why my Department of Justice will be seeking so many tougher penalties than we’ve ever had and we’ll be focusing on the penalties that I talked about previously for big pushers, the ones that are killing so many people, and that penalty is going to be the death penalty.
“Other countries don’t play games. But the ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty.”
The Justice Department said the federal death penalty is available for limited drug-related offences, including violations of the “drug kingpin” provisions in federal law.
It is not clear if the death penalty, even for traffickers whose product causes multiple deaths, would be constitutional.
Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, predicted the issue would be litigated all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in the US in 2016, more than any other year on record, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mr Trump has said fighting the problem is a priority for his administration, but critics say the effort has fallen short.
Last October, he said the crisis was a national public health emergency, short of the national state of emergency sought by a presidential commission he put together to study the issue.
He called for a nationwide public awareness campaign, which he announced in October, to scare children away from dabbling in drugs, and said the administration will work to cut the number of opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years.
The president also discussed how his policies, including a US-Mexico border wall and punishing “sanctuary” cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities, would help reduce the flow of drugs and help end the addiction epidemic.