Gingrich's Misguided Drug Plan

RECENTLY, the Associated Press reported that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich intends to present a bill in the House that will, among other things, provide for the mandatory execution of people convicted of smuggling drugs into the United States.

According to the AP, Mr. Gingrich said these potential executions would have "a very chilling effect on people bringing drugs into the US." The Speaker also characterized drug smugglers as those who "get rich at the expense of our children."

There was no mention of how the Speaker's remarks were received by the audience at the Canton, Ga., football and cheerleading festival, but I suspect that they were heartily applauded. After all, who can feel much sympathy for people such as the late drug czar Pablo Escobar, with the exception of their families?

And who among us is not saddened and alarmed by the thought of so many of our youth addicted to the use of drugs? The vast majority of these young people suffered with preexisting social and emotional difficulties before seeking refuge in the drug world. Nevertheless, we should still be terribly angry with anyone who would seek to profit from another's weaknesses.

The ruthless and amoral drug traffickers who control the world's drug cartels, however, are unlikely to be the recipients of Gingrich's simplistic attempt to mete out justice. In all likelihood, poor, ignorant, and, in many cases, abjectly desperate individuals would suffer the fate the Speaker intends for drug cartel honchos.

For example, much of the heroin smuggled into the country is carried here by low- income peasants from third-world countries such as Nigeria, where living conditions are generally so difficult that the possibility of escape justifies the risk. In fact, to many of these unfortunates, the possibility of arrest at an American port of entry could be a dream come true. It is not difficult to understand why so many of these "mules," as they are referred to in the drug world, find it impossible to resist the lure of a plane ticket to America and a few thousand dollars - small change to international traffickers.

With regard to large shipments of cocaine, law enforcement authorities attest that once a cache of drugs has successfully eluded detection at the border, often the carriers (who are typically ignorant of the details surrounding the shipments) are responsible for their delivery to domestic recipients. Because these expendable lackeys are under high risk of arrest, cartel bosses make certain that they know next to nothing about the drug shipment's provenance, the actual smuggling methods used, or the real identities of those for whom the drugs are intended.

Most often, these low-level, high-risk carriers are being paid a relatively small sum (by traffickers' standards) to claim a shipment of cargo in which cocaine is secreted. High-level, overseas drug traffickers and major domestic distributors have, for a long time, known better than to expose themselves or valuable members of their organizations to identification and arrest at this critical choke-point in the smuggling process.

Speaker Gingrich's measure only panders to the drug-war hysteria that has infected much of the electorate and many of its political representatives for too long. Those familiar with the realities of drug abuse and drug law enforcement know better than to believe that such measures will do much to reduce abuse.

Mr. Gingrich is almost certainly among them.

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