President Donald Trump again praised the death penalty as an effective method of drug control on Monday, continuing a string of statements he’s made in support of swift, violent punishment for people who sell illegal substances.
“It’s interesting,” Trump told a group of state governors at a White House meeting Monday, “we have Singapore, they have very little drug problem. We have China, they have very little drug problem. States with a very powerful death penalty on drug dealers don’t have a drug problem.”
“I don’t know that our country is ready for that,” the president continued, “but if you look throughout the world, the countries with a powerful death penalty—death penalty—with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem.”
Trump suggests he’d like to model American criminal law on drug dealing on authoritarian systems like China, where dealers are executed: “Countries with a powerful death penalty, with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem. That includes China.” pic.twitter.com/9WprysjJAX
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 10, 2020
Monday’s comments are far from the first time Trump, who says he has never even consumed alcohol, has flirted with the idea of executing people who sell drugs. For years he’s praised foreign leaders’ use of harsh punishments for drug offenses, and many believe he would like the U.S. to adopt the same approach.
“It’s not the first time Trump has hinted this country may not be ready for the ‘tough policies’ he has in mind,” Sanho Tree, a drug policy researcher and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Marijuana Moment. “It is clearly the most chilling part of his remarks. He truly believes he can kill people to force others into compliance with his dictates. It’s entirely consistent with his expressed admiration for authoritarian rulers in the Philippines, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and other autocracies.”
In 2018, an Axios article citing five sources reported, that the president often “leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty.” Inspired by Singapore and other countries that use capital punishment for drug crimes, it said, Trump “would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers.”
A year earlier, a leaked phone transcript showed Trump complimenting Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who at the time was openly calling for extrajudicial killings of people believed to be linked to the drug trade.
“Keep up the good work,” Trump told Duterte on the April 2017 call. “You’re doing an amazing job.”
The International Criminal Court has since opened an inquiry into Duterte’s ongoing campaign of violence, which so far has killed thousands, but Duterte has refused to cooperate. “I will never, never, never answer any question coming from you,” he told the court this past December. “It’s bullshit to me.”
By most accounts, Duterte’s bloody efforts have failed his people miserably. This week Col. Romeo Caramat, the head of drug enforcement for the Philippine National Police, told Reuters that violence has done little to impact the availability of drugs.
“Shock and awe definitely did not work,” he said. “Drug supply is still rampant,” with illegal drugs available “any time, anywhere” in the Philippines.
A recent report from the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance also undermines the tough-on-crime approach. The report, published in December, found that harsh penalties for drug offenses contribute to the availability of cheaper, deadlier drugs.
“When law enforcement cracks down on drug markets, suppliers have an incentive to trade in highly concentrated products, which can be more easily hidden than less potent, bulkier goods,” the report said. “This dynamic may have encouraged the introduction of fentanyl into the illegal opioid market, initiated by high-level actors at the top of the supply chain.”
Trump hasn’t yet clearly called in public for the U.S. to adopt the death penalty for drug offenses, though he’s hinted at a harsher approach, saying at a 2018 White House event that “we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties.”
“We have pushers and we have drug dealers that kill hundreds and hundreds of people and most of them don’t even go to jail,” he said at the time. “If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people [who sell drugs] can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them.”
Countries that impose the death penalty on drug offenders, he argued, “have much less of a drug problem than we do. So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties.”
Within the U.S., federal prosecutions of drug crimes have been rising amid a wave of overdose deaths during the past decade that has put pressure on public officials to respond. In 2019, overall drug-crime prosecutions increased by about 6 percent, according to a report in December by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Drug crimes made up 28 percent of all federal prosecutions that fiscal year, which ended in September.
Federal prosecutions for marijuana, meanwhile, have fallen as more and more states legalize the plant. The number of defendants in district court on cannabis charges fell by 28 percent in 2019, the report said.
But while the focus of most prosecutors and public health officials is on more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and amphetamines, Trump has routinely attacked marijuana while at the same time pledging to support it.
The president has vowed repeatedly to support legislation that would respect state laws legalizing cannabis, for example, but a newly proposed budget released on Monday would end federal protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs and continue to block Washington, D.C., from legalizing cannabis sales.
The proposal would, however, fund FDA “regulation of cannabis and cannabis derivatives”—an approach that could benefit pharmaceutical companies developing cannabis-based medicines.
Separately, in a recently leaked recording of a 2018 conversation, the president can be heard saying that cannabis use causes people to “lose IQ points,” only to add that banking for the cannabis industry is “all working out. That whole thing is working out.”
In 1990, before running for elected office, Trump famously argued that legalizing drugs worked better than prohibition.
“We’re losing badly the war on drugs,” he said at a Miami Herald luncheon. “You have to legalize drugs to win that war.”
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.