President Trump pledged to get “much tougher on drug dealers and pushers” in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
During the speech, he said:
“For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities… These [immigration and border] reforms will also support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction. In 2016, we lost 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses: 174 deaths per day. Seven per hour. We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge. My Administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. The struggle will be long and difficult — but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.”
He then recounted a story about a police officer who agreed to adopt a baby from a pregnant, homeless woman he witnessed preparing to inject heroin.
The president also gave a nod to criminal justice reform during the speech, pledging that “this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”
While Trump repeatedly promised during the presidential campaign to respect state marijuana laws, Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month rescinded Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed local cannabis policies to go into effect without federal interference.
Despite his campaign statements on state marijuana legalization, and his brief reference to prison reform during the State of the Union, Trump has often stated his disdain for drugs and regularly touts a tough-on-crime agenda.
In recent weeks, he has delivered a series of curious comments about his vision for the country’s drug enforcement policies.
At a signing ceremony for a bill providing drug screening technology to border patrol agents,he ominously suggested he has a solution to drug problems in mind that he’s not sure the county is ready for yet:
“So we’re going to sign this. And it’s a step. And it feels like a very giant step, but unfortunately it’s not going to be a giant step, because no matter what you do, this is something that keeps pouring in. And we’re going to find the answer. 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 a separate event this month, he said that other countries respond to drug issues with “very, very tough measures,” adding: “We don’t. We’re not prepared to do that, I guess, they say, as a country.”
Now Trump is telling the women's event about… [checks notes again]…. the "very tough measures" other countries (read: Duterte) are taking to crack down on drug dealers pic.twitter.com/JOfQHWYPmI
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 16, 2018
Last year, a leaked transcript indicated that during a phone call Trump specifically praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs,” which 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,” the American president 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 nation’s leading drug law reform advocacy organization reacted negatively to Trump’s Tuesday speech.
“President Trump repeatedly claims that his administration is committed to ending the opioid overdose crisis but missed a critical opportunity tonight to ask Congress to ramp up critically needed opioid treatment and services that reduce drug-related harm,” Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “Trump instead signaled that he intends to continue escalating the war on drugs. Though he mentioned providing treatment to those in need, Trump strongly emphasized getting ‘tougher on pushers and dealers’ and connected increased overdose fatalities to immigration policy… It is surreal that Trump would call for prison reform and an escalation of the war on drugs in the same speech.”
Photo courtesy of Michael Vadon.