Over the weekend, struggling Republican presidential candidate Gary
Johnson reminded MSNBC viewers that GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich had
once to called to punish some drug offenders with death.
“Newt Gingrich, in 1997, proposed the death penalty for marijuana —
for possession of marijuana above a certain quantity of marijuana,”
Johnson explained. “And yet, he is among 100 million Americans who’ve
“I would love to have a discussion with him on the fact that he
smoked pot, and under the wrong set of circumstance he proposed the
death penalty for, potentially, something that he had committed. I have
troubles with that,” he added.Johnson, a former New Mexico governor who has advocated for marijuana
legalization since 1999, is at least partially correct about Gingrich’s
As Speaker of the House, Gingrich introduced the “Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996.”
The bill would have required a “sentence of death for certain
importations of significant quantities of controlled substances.” It
would have applied to anyone convicted more than once of carrying 100
doses — or about two ounces — or marijuana across the border. Defendants would have had a window of 18 months to file their one and only appeal.
“If you import a commercial quantity of illegal drugs, it is because
you have made the personal decision that you are prepared to get rich by
destroying our children,” the Georgia Republican said at a fundraiser for Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA) in 1995. “I have made the decision that I love our children enough that we will kill you if you do this.”
“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.”
U.S. law already allows the death penalty in the cases of large-scale drug operations — or continuing criminal enterprises — that result in murder.
Gingrich charged in 1994
that 25 percent of President Bill Clinton’s White House staff used
drugs, but at the same time admitted that he had also smoked pot 25
“That was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era,” he explained.
“See, when I smoked pot it was illegal, but not immoral,” Gingrich reportedly told Wall Street Journal
reporter Hilary Stout in 1996. “Now, it is illegal AND immoral. The law
didn’t change, only the morality… That’s why you get to go to jail and I
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