Last week, Attorney Jeff “Good People Don’t Smoke Marijuana” Sessions fired off a memo instructing federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in cases “dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs.” It is part of the Trump administration’s vindictive, impracticable and nonsensical response to the nation’s opioid addiction crisis.
Sessions’ unworkable solution was revealed right after President Trump trumpeted his opinion on how to “win” the war on drugs. “If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we are wasting our time,” Trump said in a combative speech in New Hampshire. “And that toughness includes the death penalty.”
The get-tough policy — which failed miserably under President Richard Nixon and President Reagan — got some Americans curious as to what constitutes “extremely large quantities of drugs.” How much weed would it take to get the death penalty?
Well, Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post went digging for the answer and here’s what he discovered:
[T]here is federal capital punishment on the books for large quantities of marijuana – a substance with no known lethal dose that is legal for recreational use in nine states plus the District of Columbia. The threshold is huge – 60,000 kilograms, or 60,000 plants, enough to fill several shipping containers.
So unless you have 60,000 plants somewhere hidden from view, you should be safe from the death penalty. For now.
“The Supreme Court has never upheld the death penalty for a crime that did not involve death,” Tamar Todd, director of the Office of Legal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Ingraham. “No one has been sentenced to death under that provision,” Todd said. “People have long thought that the provision would be unconstitutional, but it hasn’t been challenged because there have been no cases.”
According to The Washington Post story, here are the quantities of other illegal drugs that would trigger the death penalty:
- LSD: Just under 0.6 kilograms (about 6 million doses (100-microgram per dose).
- Meth: 3 kilograms.
- PCP: 6 kilograms.
- Fentanyl: 24 kilograms.
- Heroin: 60 kilograms.
- Pure cocaine: 300 kilograms.
- Crack cocaine: 16.8 kilograms. (Yep. As Ingraham points out, the two substances are chemically identical, but crack is treated 18 times more severely under federal law – a relic of racial drug sentencing disparities that have traditionally treated African American drug users much more severely than white ones.