Sen. Tom Cotton reiterated his support for President Trump’s call for the death penalty for fentanyl dealers during a news conference this afternoon in Little Rock alongside Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. Cotton was there to plug a new bill he’s co-sponsoring to increase mandatory minimums for distributing fentanyl. The bill doesn’t (yet) include the death penalty as a possible sentence.
At one point, Cotton held up a salt shaker. “This is just under 40 grams of fentanyl — I’m sorry, of salt. This amount of fentanyl would kill up to 20,000 people, yet you’d get less than five years in prison for it.”
Under current law, a person must have 10 grams of fentanyl or a similar drug in his possession before mandatory minums kick in. Cotton’s bill, co-sponsored with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), Bill Cassidy M.D. (R-Louisiana), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), and Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), would drop the threshold down to just .5 grams.
Rolling Stone wrote about the legislation when it was introduced:
“We’ve never found any evidence that increasing mandatory minimum sentences works,” Ames Grawert, senior counsel at the Brennen Center for Justice, tells Rolling Stone. “Instead, most of the research we’ve done has shown that prison sentences can be safely decreased with or without any adverse consequences for public safety. This is exactly the wrong direction to be going.”
Criminal justice reform picked up broad bipartisan support in the last Congress and it seemed like it had the support to pass, but it was quietly derailed behind the scenes by Cotton and then-Senator Jeff Sessions, which isn’t lost on Grawert.
“It’s notable that Cotton and Sessions used to be sort of the heckler’s veto, sort of the only people saying that sentencing reform wasn’t worth moving, and now they’re the ones setting party policy, and with the notable exception of [Republican Judiciary Chairman] Chuck Grassley, not a lot of Republican officials are speaking out against them,” Grawert adds.
Last week, Rutledge filed suit against three drug companies for deploying “marketing schemes and misinformation campaigns” that she said helped create the state’s opioid crisis.