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Flailing Trump Pivots to Drug Policy, Demands Hillary Drug Test, Pivots Away Again [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #948)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Reeling from allegation after allegation of sexual misconduct, Republican presidential contender Donald Trump tried to go on the offensive on drug policy over the weekend, but in a manner typical of his campaign, he touched only briefly on the topic before flying off on new tangents, and he began his drug policy interlude with a bizarre attack on Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump talks drugs. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
At a speech at a Toyota dealership in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Saturday, the GOP candidate claimed that Clinton was on performance-enhancing drugs before their last debate and suggested drug tests were in order.

"Why don't we do that?" he demanded, adding that Clinton was likely "getting pumped up" as the prepared for that debate.

"We should take a drug test prior cause I don't know what's going on with her. But at the beginning of last debate, she was all pumped up at the beginning and at the end it was like, oh take me down. She could barely reach her car," he claimed.

The claim didn't come out of nowhere. Trump was echoing an ad from two weeks ago from the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Number 1 that showed Clinton coughing and then stumbling to her van on the morning of September 11. The super PAC is bankrolled by Trump backer and big time conservative donor Robert Mercer, who dropped $2 million on the PAC in July.

The unfounded allegation of Clinton pre-debate drug use and the demand for a drug test grabbed media attention, but if Trump was attempting to turn a corner and shift the campaign's focus away from his peccadillos, his strange accusation against Clinton only served to raise more questions about his temperament and suitability for the nation's highest office.

Trump wanted Hillary Clinton to submit to a pre-debate drug test. (Wikimedia)
And it virtually smothered any discussion of actual drug policy proposals Trump made during the speech. While Trump has obliquely addressed the heroin and prescription opioid problem in the past, Saturday's speech was the first time he tried to put any flesh on his proposals for dealing with it.

If anyone were paying attention to the policy details amidst all the racket about the drug test challenge, they would have heard drug policy proposals rooted squarely in the failed drug war strategies of the last century.

Trump would, he said, block drugs from coming into the US by -- you guessed it -- building the wall on the Mexican border. He would also seek to tighten restrictions on the prescribing of opioids. And he would reinstitute mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.

"We have 5 percent of the world's population but use 80 percent of the prescription opioids," Trump said, eerily echoing former rival Jeb Bush, who used the same language while campaigning in the state earlier this year.

That statistic is aimed at showing that the US is over-prescribing narcotic pain killers, but according to the World Health Organization, the actuality is that in much of the rest of the world, they are underprescribing them. In fact, the WHO said that in more than 150 countries with 83 percent of the global population, there is virtually no access to prescription opioids for relief of pain.

And the under-treatment of chronic pain isn't just a problem in India or China or Africa. According to the National Institute of Health, more than 50 million Americans suffer significant chronic or severe pain. An opioid policy that focuses only on reducing prescriptions without addressing the need for access to pain killing opioids for actual pain is only half a policy.

When it comes to the border, Trump correctly asserts that Mexico is the source of most of the heroin in the US (it produces 45% itself and another 51% comes from Latin America, mostly Colombia and Guatemala, often through Mexico), but relies on a hyper-interdiction policy ("build the wall") to thwart it. Interdiction -- blocking the flow of drugs into the country -- has been a pillar of US drug policy for decades, but despite massive border build ups and the doubling of the number of Customs and Border Patrol agents in the past 15 years, the drugs still flow.

Long after their popularity wanes, Trump calls for new mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. (
Interdiction hasn't done the trick so far, and there is no indication that even a Trumpian wall would make a difference. The creativity of drug smugglers is legendary, and the economic incentives under drug prohibition are great. As the saying goes, "Build a 50-foot wall, and they'll bring a 51-foot ladder" (or a tunnel).

The third component of his drug policy is a Reaganesque "lock 'em up." In his New Hampshire speech, he saluted running mate Mike Pence for increasing mandatory minimums for drug offenders as governor of Indiana.

"We must make similar efforts a priority for the nation," Trump said.

That position flies in the face of a growing bipartisan consensus that the use of mandatory minimums for drug offenses is draconian, ineffective, and harms mainly minority populations. During the Obama administration, mandatory minimum sentences have been reduced with congressional assent, and Obama himself has granted commutations to hundreds of drug war prisoners serving those draconian sentences, with little dissent.

Trump's drug policy is but a sketch, but even its vague outlines reflect outdated approaches to the issue and a quickness to resort to cheap demagoguery on the issue. Still, while there is plenty of room for discussion of his approach, Trump has apparently already left the issue behind, barely mentioning it since Saturday as he tilts at other windmills.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymously (not verified)

If Trump wins it wouldn't surprise me if he took a page out of Duterte's drug war playbook; and really, Duterte's approach is simply a more public, shameless (and because of that, brutally honest), not-that-far of an extension of the excesses of the USA's drug policies.  There are many authoritarians out there who see everything as a nail and want to bring the hammer down, damn any facts or compassion.

Wed, 10/19/2016 - 8:18pm Permalink
Ron Helton (not verified)

As Americans we need to treat drug addiction as a health issue.  The policy of lock them up and throw away the key is not solving any of the addiction problems and it is just wasting money that could be spent on more worthwhile needs.   

For a constant update on the money spent on this failed policy and other statistics please visit:

Fri, 10/21/2016 - 9:47pm Permalink
Kizzle (not verified)

I'm not a Trump fan but this article horribly biased. I was actually impressed that he suggested more of a harm reduction approach. No one else has even mentioned the restrictions on drugs that could treat addiction. This is the same guy who has suggested legalizing all drugs in the past, suffice it to say it's clear he's open to different approaches. We can only speculate what he'd actually do if he got in office. I can't imagine him not supporting legalization of marijuana given it's current level of support and the economic benefits of doing so. I get the sense he's more worried about the massive amount of money that leaves the country from the drug trade than anything else.

Fri, 10/21/2016 - 11:33pm Permalink
Alex (not verified)

In reply to by Kizzle (not verified)

Hi Kizzle! I noticed that too. The article is very biased. When you actually listen to what Trump says he is more of a moderate republican and not the monster the lame stream media makes him out to be. Don't get me wrong. In the past I have come from a left of center, progressive, perspective. But I have to admit, liberal America has made so many bad judgment calls this election that I am very embarrassed for them and I now call myself Independent instead of liberal or progressive. The lame stream media has it out for Trump and that is because is an outsider to the globalist, corporate, control club that has dominated our government for the past several decades.He has this radical notion that the economy should be run for the American people instead of soulless international corporations. So they give the orders to the corporate controlled lame stream media to smear him in anyway possible. It is downright scary how badly liberal, progressive, America has let itself be manipulated by the corporate media. And while we are on the subject it is down right scary how authoritarian so called liberals and so called progressives have gotten over the past ten years as well. 

Sat, 10/22/2016 - 10:55am Permalink
saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

In reply to by Alex (not verified)

The biggest concern with his drug policies is that he'll be drawing his advisors from the Republican Party, which is still dedicating to holding up progress on drug war issues, and in particular his advisors Krispy Kreme, Giuliani and Gingrich are all implacable on drug war issues. Drug policy is not an important issue to him and he may outsource it to diehard alcohol supremacists.

Sat, 10/22/2016 - 7:32pm Permalink
Alex (not verified)

In reply to by saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

Hi Saynotohypocrisy! You are absolutely right in your concerns about the toxic influence of the republican party, or of the "alcohol supremacists" as you framed it. Trumps selection of VP was troubling in that regard as it showed him making concessions to the very corporate neo-cons who are responsible, behind the curtains, for the intense attacks against him coming from the lame stream media. It could be that he had to cut a unwanted deal of compromise behind the scenes in order to save his hide. Shillery is just as bad. On the other hand this new Alt-right movement that is a main factor in driving Trumps success among the young conservatives, seem like they are just as tired of the drug war as the progressives, and they are slowly taking over the republican party. So the forecast for the long run looks good for the republican party to change to a less puritanical mess over the course of a decade or so. It is the short run we have to worry about. 

Sun, 10/23/2016 - 12:53pm Permalink
borden (not verified)

In reply to by Kizzle (not verified)

Kizzle, and others, thanks for coming to our site and joining the discussion. Phil did actually report on Trump's pro-legalization comments in a past article, and I think he wrote about Trump's proposals for dealing with heroin, which were not all bad. I realize that a reader seeing only this article won't necessarily find those other ones.

As an active participant in the criminal justice reform community here inside the Beltway, I can attest that there has been a real concern that Trump's "law and order" campaign theme could set back sentencing reform efforts, which have become bipartisan in recent years, amazingly more so than for the vast majority of issues. Some believe that Trump's rhetoric is a contribution factor to the likely failure of sentencing reform efforts in Congress this year. As some have pointed out, having people like Giuliani and Christie so prominent on his team is not a good sign either.

Clinton by contrast has made reversing mass incarceration a them of her campaign, and the makeup of her policy team suggests a leaning in our direction. That said, there also are questions as to whether Clinton will be as serious and consistent about criminal justice reform as her campaign positions have suggested.

The above is a personal comment, not a stance taken by

Sun, 10/23/2016 - 3:48pm Permalink
TrebleBass (not verified)

I was not aware of any of this. I hadn't heard trump had opinions on drug policy. It's nice to see in the comments that apparently he's open minded, but he might be just as open minded to prohibitionism as to good ideas. The one that really disappointed me in drug policy, though, is clinton. She's so conservative, so establishment. The majority of Democrats want legalization. I was hoping this was going to be the year the Democrat candidate was for legalizingredients weed.
Wed, 10/26/2016 - 6:43pm Permalink

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