Louisiana AG says death penalty for drug dealers is up for debate
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By Emily Lane
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
President Donald Trump’s proposal to use the death penalty on some convicted drug dealers as part of his plan to combat opioid addiction and overdose deaths is worth considering, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said.
Speaking a press conference Tuesday (March 20) at the New Orleans Police Department’s Gentilly station, Landry said the idea “is certainly up for debate.” The attorney general joined leaders from the NOPD, St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office, New Orleans Health Department and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana at NOPD’s 3rd District station to speak to reporters about the placement of new drug drop-off boxes throughout the New Orleans metro area that allow residents to dispose of unused prescription medication.
Landry stopped short of endorsing capital punishment for drug dealers, but said traffickers who peddle drugs that cause fatal overdoses, are “basically” committing an offense akin to murder. Now is the “time and place” to debate if current or proposed penalties fit their crimes, he said.
Drug addiction, specifically opioid addiction, has started to receive the attention the problem deserves, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff James Pohlmann said. After noting this week’s media coverage about the death penalty as applied to drug dealers, he said, “I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” adding, “But I do remember the days when you got a life sentence for distribution of heroin and I don’t remember heroin being (as) big a problem when that was in place.
“Does that have something to do with it? Maybe,” Pohlmann said. “I think we need to sort all that stuff out.”
The sheriff did say he supports life sentences for people convicted multiple times of drug trafficking.
Besides harsh penalties for drug dealers, Pohlmann said, other elements required to fight drug addiction are education and accessible treatment for addicts.
“People with drug problems shouldn’t be turned away (from treatment). People with drug problems shouldn’t be in our jails, that’s not where they belong,” the sheriff said. “We can take all the drug addicts out of jail, (and) make plenty of room for drug dealers.
“I don’t care what level you’re dealing drugs: if you’re selling a pill, a joint, a pound, a kilo – if you’re selling drugs you should find a place in our jails,” Pohlmann said. “And if you continue to do it, you should spend a lot of time in our jails.”
‘I know what parents go through,’ sheriff says
Pohlmann’s three-pronged approach to fighting the opioid crisis — harsher sentences, education, and treatment — is informed by his 35 years in law enforcement, during which he said he has been a “champion” of combatting drug addiction. In the last 15 years, though, the sheriff said after the press conference ended, he has also personally dealt with the wrath of addiction.
Pohlmann’s 30-year-old son, James Pohlmann, died of drug overdose Sept. 5, 2016, in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward.
“I know both sides of the coin,” Pohlmann said, referring to the impact of drug addiction from a public safety angle, in law enforcement, and as the loved one of someone suffering from addiction. “I know what parents go through, what families go through.”
Drug drop-off boxes at nearly every NOPD district station
White metal drug drop-off boxes, about the size of a mailbox, will eventually be at every one of NOPD’s eight district stations, as well as at the department’s Mid-City headquarters, said Landry and NOPD Specialized Investigation Division Commander Jimmy Scott. Each NOPD district will responsible for disposing of the medicine that’s dropped in the boxes. The 2nd District station, however, will not have a drop-off box, for now, because of renovations.
Residents using the drop boxes should dispose of medicine contained inside their labeled bottles, Scott said.
New Orleans Health Department Director Dr. Joseph Kanter said 75 percent of people who inject heroin or heroin mixed with deadlier fentanyl “began their opioid addiction with oral opioids — pain killers.” More than half of those who took oral pain killers last year “obtained that pill from a relative or friend.”
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