President Trump, speaking at the White House on Thursday, seemed to imply he supports executing people who sell illegal drugs.
“Some countries have a very, very tough penalty. The ultimate penalty,” he said. “And by the way they have much less of a drug problem than we do. So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties.”
The president said he thinks sellers of illegal drugs don’t get punished harshly enough in the U.S.
“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. “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.”
I’ve learned in past two days that Trump has talked up the Chinese, Filipino and Singaporean systems of killing drug dealers to even more people than I originally thought. List includes members of Congress (including some in leadership) & foreign leaders.
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) February 27, 2018
Last year, Trump was quoted in a leaked transcript of a phone call with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte praising that nation’s bloody “war on drugs” that has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” he was quoted as saying. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
The International Criminal Court began an inquiry into that country’s drug war killings last month.
While the president has made a number of suggestive comments implying he supports radically stepped up drug enforcement and harsher penalties in recent months, the new comments are the closest he has come in public to endorsing the death penalty for people who sell controlled substances.
At a signing ceremony in January for a bill providing drug screening technology to border patrol agents, for example, he suggested he has a particular drug policy in mind that he’s not sure the county is quite ready for.
“No matter what you do, this is something that keeps pouring in. And we’re going to find the answer,” he said. “There is an answer. I think I actually know the answer, but I’m not sure the country’s ready for it yet. Does anybody know what I mean? I think so.”
At another event this year, Trump noted how other countries handle drug selling with “very, very tough measures” and decrying that “we’re not prepared to do that, I guess, they say, as a country.”
And in his State of the Union address he vaguely vowed to get “much tougher on drug dealers and pushers.”
Speaking in front of administration officials and stakeholders in the addiction recovery, treatment and law enforcement communities at the opioids event on Thursday, Trump said, “the drug dealers and the drug pushers are really doing damage.”
“We need strength with respect to the pushers and to the drug dealers. If you don’t do that you’re never going to solve the problem,” he added. “If you want to be weak and you want to talk about just blue ribbon committees, that’s not the answer. The answer is you have to have strength and you have to have toughness.”
The president also spoke about litigation against opioids manufacturers and broader reforms to drug policy and enforcement, saying his administration is “going to be rolling out policy over the next three weeks, and it’ll be very, very strong.”
The sentiment in favor of responding to drug issues with harsh penalties and enforcement clashes with legalization comments Trump made in support of legalizing drugs in 1990.
“We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war,” he said, according to newspaper reports. “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
Much more recently, in a meeting about guns on Wednesday, the president seemed to imply that prohibition and policing can never eliminate the illegal drug market.
“The problem is you have a real black market. They don’t worry about anything… They sell a gun and the buyer doesn’t care and the seller — that’s one of the problems we are all going to have,” he said. “And you have that problem with drugs. You make the drugs illegal and they come, you’ve never had a problem like that. We’re fighting it hard, but you’ve never had a problem like this.”
Photo courtesy of Michael Vadon.