President Donald Trump wants to tackle the current opioid crisis by calling for much stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty, CBC reports. "This isn't about nice anymore," Trump said in Manchester, New Hampshire. "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."
While this seems extreme to most reasonable people, Trump shared his thought that if someone accused of killing a single person can get the death penalty, so should someone possibly allegedly responsible for the death of far more.
While Trump isn't looking to create new laws, he's instead calling for the Department of Justice to enforce the current laws more vigorously. As it stands now, federal prosecutors can go for the death penalty if someone is killed intentionally during a drug deal. Similarly, "kingpins" associated with large amounts of drugs can also face the death penalty even without being attached to an intentional murder, but current precedent shows it's a course of action that has never been pursued.
For Trump, more serious punishments would help to ease the drug epidemic, and he used Singapore as an example, but the current laws have historically affected poor and marginalized communities much more than those who sit near the top of the food chain. Much like the "war on drugs" of the 1970s and 80s, this rigorous approach is likely to do more harm than good while targeting mainly black and brown communities, and there's plenty of evidence this current iteration is not much different.
"I don't think there's any reason to believe that attempting to revive this policy and use it more effectively will be any more successful," said Cornell Law School professor John H. Blume. The relative infrequency of the sentence will also do little to be an effective deterrent, "I don't think people out there who sell drugs are worried about, 'Am I going to get the death penalty?'"
Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, thinks it would ultimately be up to the Supreme Court since such sentences would likely be met with plenty of appeals and other legal pushback. "The death penalty is uncertain as a constitutionally permissible punishment without that connection to an intentional killing," Berman said. The plan would not only see harsher penalties for drug-related crimes but also make recovery and treatment more accessible. Of course, it's yet to be seen how this all will actually pan out.