Notes from the Nineties: Gingrich’s Drug Policy Plan

From an article published in the New York Times on August 27, 1995:

Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Friday that he would ask Congress to enact legislation imposing the death penalty on drug smugglers, and he suggested that mass executions of people convicted under such a law might prove an effective deterrent.

Mr. Gingrich, speaking to about 400 people at a money-raising event here for Representative Charlie Norwood, Republican of Georgia, said, “The first time we execute 27 or 30 or 35 people at one time, and they go around Colombia and France and Thailand and Mexico, and they say, ‘Hi, would you like to carry some drugs into the U.S.?’ the price of carrying drugs will have gone up dramatically.”

Mr. Gingrich said his proposal, which he said he would make in a bill to be filed next month, would impose a mandatory death penalty on people convicted of bringing illegal drugs into the United States.

On September 25, 1996 Gingrich introduced the Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996 to Congress. The act would have,

[Amended] the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to direct the court to sentence a person convicted of bringing into the United States a proscribed quantity of a mixture or substance containing a controlled substance in an amount the Attorney General has determined is equal to 100 usual dosage amounts to life imprisonment without possibility of release (or, if the defendant has violated such provision on more than one occasion and if certain requirements under the Federal criminal code are met, to death). Makes conforming amendments to the code.

Under such a rule someone could, in other words, be executed for bringing two ounces of marijuana into the United States.

The legislation was not enacted.

Newt Gingrich, man of big ideas.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer