WASHINGTON — Vox reported Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is forging ahead with Trump's plan to sentence people who traffic drugs to death. Sessions sent out a memo to federal prosecutors Tuesday requesting that they seek the death penalty for drug traffickers, including those in possession of large quantities of drugs.
In the memo, Sessions also directed federal prosecutors to target each district and utilize all statutes available to prosecute prescription drug manufacturers and opioid distributors to make them accountable for breaking the law.
At a speech in New Hampshire on Monday, Trump said that the death penalty should be used against drug traffickers, saying that it was time to get tough on "those people" and that "toughness includes the death penalty.” New Hampshire has one of the worst opioid epidemics in the country, and the Associated Press reported that New Hampshire recently received a $333,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration to help combat the crisis in the state.
As his justification for executing people caught trafficking drugs, Trump said that drug dealers would likely kill thousands of people over a lifetime. He said that drug traffickers can’t continue to go unpunished, adding that courts should execute them as the solution. Trump also blamed the liberals for his failure to build his wall along the Mexican border, adding that the border wall would decrease the amount of drugs being smuggled into the United States.
Potential for Marijuana Prosecution
People legally cultivating or distributing large amounts of marijuana in states where it is legal could also potentially be charged by federal prosecutors, and Sessions rescinded the Obama federal policy that protected people in legal marijuana states from prosecution under federal laws in January. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the Administration would continue to "aggressively prosecute" drug traffickers and use capital punishment whenever "appropriate." The current federal law gives the U.S. attorney general deciding power when it comes to the death penalty.
The memo also cites the statistics, noting that more than 64,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose in 2016, making it the number one cause of death for people under 50. Many argue that legalizing marijuana would not only decrease overdoses from prescription painkillers, it also could potentially decrease the violence resulting from the illegal drug trade. The Trump Administration's solution is to have tougher penalties on people who deal drugs, who are often addicts needing money for their habit. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost 30 percent of prisoners were in jail because they were caught committing a crime in order to feed their opioid habit.
Shared Blame for Epidemic
Sessions also says in the memo that drug dealers, global criminal enterprises, and street gangs are responsible for the epidemic and orders federal prosecutors to use every available tool to end the deadly opioid crisis. The Trump Administration may also consider suing prescription companies that make or distribute opioids to keep them accountable.
Trump said in his speech Monday that the pharmaceutical companies are partially responsible for the drug epidemic and should be held responsible. His comments resulted in prescription drug companies’ stock prices falling, according to CNBC, and an Ohio federal judge is currently presiding over a case consisting of 200 consolidated lawsuits of several states affected by the opioid epidemic that have accused manufacturers of deceitful practices and peddling drugs they knew to be addictive.
Researchers from Harvard found that counties in the United States that utilize the death penalty the most frequently are in rural areas of Alabama, Florida, and Texas. They also concluded that the death penalty cases in those areas all have racism and incompetent defense lawyers as common factors. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is from Selma, Alabama.