Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking

Drug Trafficking in the US

Over the last decade, the drug landscape has shifted in United States. Opioid abuse (including prescription opiates as well as illicit drugs) has skyrocketed. Abuse of other drugs, including methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, synthetic drugs, and marijuana, also remain cause for widespread concern. Drug trafficking accounts for billions of dollars’ worth of drugs brought into the U.S. every year, and trafficking into the U.S. dates back to 1800s. It is understandable why finding an end to drug trafficking remains a hot topic in American politics.

We Have a Serious Problem, America

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines drug trafficking as, “a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws.” In 2017, the Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published its National Drug Threat Assessment, offering updated statistics on drugs brought illegally into the U.S. as well as the estimated impacts on Americans. Drug poisoning remains the leading cause of death by injury – more than deaths by motor vehicles, suicide, guns, and homicide. American access to drugs and drug abuse is at epidemic levels.

Death Penalty as a Solution, or Part of the Problem?

In America, when a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty of certain offenses which include intentionally killing or harming others, the death penalty can be authorized as a consequence. In 1993, the Federal Death Penalty Act expanded the potential use of the death penalty for certain crimes, including trafficking large amounts of narcotics. The 8th Amendment to the Constitution states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Many laws influence the applicability and approval for capital punishment while others attempt to keep the use of corporal punishment in check. For instance, in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty should be reserved only for crimes that directly take the life of a victim. However, the death penalty remains available for nearly 60 crimes, and only some require a related death.

The impacts of the illegal drug industry on the people of the United States are so widespread, combating drug trafficking has been a focused platform for politicians for generations. In spring of this year, President Trump proposed that we should further combat the opioid crisis by increasing criminal penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty.

Public Response to Death Penalty as Punishment for Drug Trafficking

The American public has offered mixed responses to this proposal. Some citizens, observing previous efforts to curb trafficking, believe raising the consequences for drug trafficking might create much-needed change. Others feel this is failed rhetoric, and that Trump’s broad statements about the death penalty for drug traffickers are too vague to be applicable in any legal sense. Dr. Guohua Li, a Columbia University professor who has studied the drug epidemic for more than a decade, told CNN, “relying on the criminal justice system to address public health problems has proven unwise, costly, ineffective, and often counterproductive.”

Taking a Stand

Drug abuse and drug trafficking affect all Americans. As our representative politicians and lawmakers seek solutions and consider changes to current laws, it’s important that all of us research facts as we develop our opinions. Know how you feel and why. Going beyond our votes, we must reach out to our representatives and be heard.

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