In New Hampshire this week, Pres. Trump rolled out his new proposals to combat our drug crisis—including, the opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, major aspects of his drug proposals are just a rehash of the Reagan era’s “War on Drugs.” As we all know, the punitive Reagan drug policies did not end our national addiction crisis. Trump not only calls out for mandatory minimum sentences, but adds his own twist to that failed policy.Trump wants the death penalty for drug offenders, as he succintly stated, “where appropriate under current law.”
Mandatory sentencing and the three strike law removed discretion from courts in sentencing offenders, who did not deserve long sentences. These harsh policies were a major factor in creating our “Mass Incarceration Crisis.”The United States has the most inmates in the world–25%.
However, Pres. Trump goes one step further—he wants to impose the death sentence for major drug dealers.Trump was in awe of Philippines drug policies under President Rodrigo Duterte. Since becoming President in 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed his “war on drugs” with a death total over 12,000–mostly urban poor Filipinos. Trump has congratulated Duterte on his drug policies.
The United States imposed strict sentencing policies in the 1980’s and 1990’s and they failed. Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at the Marron Institute at New York University, stated, “We did the experiment. In 1980, we had about 15,000 people behind bars for drug dealing. And now we have about 450,000 people behind bars for drug dealing.”We never won the drug war.
Strict punishments are counterproductive. They punish people who need treatment, not prison. Often the difference between a dealer and a user is very gray. A 2017 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, stated “nearly a third of drug offenders (30 percent of state prisoners and 29 percent of jail inmates) said they committed the offense to get drugs or money for drugs.”In other words, they were addicts, who needed treatment.
Ironically, in terms of opioids, who are the major drug dealers–the big drug companies! Are we going to impose the death sentence on the pharmaceutical’s CEO’s?
The death penalty is not the answer to the drug epidemic, unless we want to become a third world dictatorship.