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Trump Uses Dubious Data In Calls To Execute Drug Dealers Quickly

Former president Trump has been calling for quickly executing drug dealers with little recourse for defendants to due process rules that might block swift prosecution and sentencing. Trump cites a blizzard of statistics and a gruesome anecdote to justify his idea. His claims are easily debunked or cannot be verified, says the Washington Post fact checker. Trump praises China as a role model with an inaccurate depiction of its practices and history. Trump’s plan to execute drug dealers is one of the few substantive policy proposals he makes in speeches. Trump has often touted how much seizures of drugs at the southern border had increased on his watch. This is an imperfect metric. It could mean that law enforcement is doing a better job. More seizures also might indicate that the drug flow has increased, and that law enforcement is missing even more.

Trump says that since he left office, drug cartels "have seen their revenue skyrocket by an astounding ... 2,500 percent." He offers a suspiciously precise statistic for an industry that does not publish revenue figures and whose financials can only be roughly estimated. A RAND study released in May estimated that the median price for illegally manufactured fentanyl has declined more than 50 percent from 2016 to 2021. Beau Kilmer, of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center said the most recent study on spending on illicit drugs was completed in 2016, estimating spending in the U.S. for cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine at about $150 billion that year. That was little changed from 2006. The study did not cover fentanyl, as there is not good data on fentanyl consumption. Trump says drug dealers kill 500 people during their lives. The number of drug dealers is unknown, making it impossible to estimate how many people die per drug dealer. About 600,000 people died of drug overdoses from 2010 to 2020. Trump’s statistic suggests that there are only 1,200 drug dealers in the U.S., but the federal government prosecutes nearly 20,000 drug traffickers a year. As president, he would routinely say drug dealers would kill thousands of people. Whether the death penalty could be applied to drug dealers is unclear. The Supreme Court, in a 2008 ruling, said “the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.” But the majority opinion said it did not include "drug kingpin activity," a crime against the state, not individuals.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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