Q&A: The Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking?

The Trump administration’s initiative to combat the opioid epidemic aims to reduce drug demand, curtail illicit drug supply and expand addiction treatment. But the aspect that garnered headlines was President Trump’s repeated emphasis on seeking the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Could capital punishment be used in drug trafficking cases, and would it deter the crime? We looked at the legal history and scientific research to answer several key questions on the topic.

Is the president asking Congress to expand the death penalty statutes?

At this point, he has not explicitly done so. In his March 19 speech on combating the opioid crisis, Trump only vaguely said that it was time to to “get tough on the drug dealers. … And that toughness includes the death penalty.”

Trump, March 19: Drug traffickers kill so many thousands of our citizens every year. And that’s why my Department of Justice will be seeking so many much tougher penalties than we’ve ever had, and we will be focusing on the penalty that I talked about previously for the big pushers, the ones that are really killing so many people. And that penalty is going to be the death penalty.

But a on the administration’s plan was more specific, saying the Department of Justice “will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers, .” (The emphasis is ours.)

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