Being involved in the illegal drug trade in certain countries, which may include illegally importing, exporting, selling or possession of significant amounts of drugs constitute capital offences and may result in capital punishment for drug trafficking.
A March 2018 report by Harm Reduction International (HRI) says: "There are at least 33 countries and territories that prescribe the death penalty for drug offences in law. ... Between January 2015 and December 2017, at least 1,320 people are known to have been executed for drug-related offences – 718 in 2015; 325 in 2016; and 280 in 2017. These estimates do not include China, as HRI claims that "reliable figures continue to be unavailable for the country."
According to a 2011 article by the Lawyers Collective, an NGO in India, "32 countries impose capital punishment for offences involving narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances." A 2015 article by The Economist says that the laws of 32 countries provide for capital punishment for drug smuggling.
Sentences for drug-related crimes, especially for trafficking, are the strictest in Asian countries. In January 2014, then-President Thein Sein of Myanmar commuted all the country's death sentences to life imprisonment. In South Korea, the law continues to provide for the death penalty for drug offences, although it currently has a moratorium on capital punishment: there have been no executions since 1997, but there are still people on death row, and new death sentences continue to be handed down. While capital punishment has been abolished in the Philippines, the Philippine Drug War has led to thousands of extrajudicial executions against drug traffickers, which are endorsed by president Rodrigo Duterte and his government.
Developed nations that carry out capital punishments regularly include Japan, Singapore, the United States and Taiwan.
|China||Ranks first in the world by number of executions related to drug trafficking.|
|India||Option when a second conviction for drug trafficking in quantities specified.|
|Indonesia||Death penalty for drug-related crimes depending on severity (drug trafficking, possession of large amounts of drugs, etc.), other drug-related crimes may result in life sentencing or other harsh punishments. See also: Bali Nine.|
|Iran||Trial under the jurisdiction of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, a special court that tries individuals accused of smuggling, blaspheming, or committing acts of treason. Iran ranks second in the world for most executions.|
|Japan||The death penalty is a widely enforced penalty in Japan, with regular executions for cases such as murder. However, its usage against drug trafficking has not been seen in a while.|
|Malaysia||A Moroccan man was sentenced to death by the High Court on May 30, 2013, for trafficking in more than six kilograms of methamphetamine. A man was sentenced to death by hanging on September 3, 2021, for 299 grams of cannabis presumed to be for trafficking.|
|Myanmar||According to the cartography available on the French version of the website of the International Federation of Human Rights, drugs crimes can still be punished by the death penalty in Myanmar in theory.|
|Mexico||Extrajudicial executions. See Mexican drug war.|
|Philippines||While capital punishment has been abolished per se in the Philippines, the Philippine Drug War that was enacted under president Rodrigo Duterte has led to thousands of extrajudicial executions against suspected drug traffickers.|
|Saudi Arabia||Saudi Arabia ranks third in the world for the most executions. 43 percent of those executed in 2015 had been convicted of smuggling drugs, ranging from heroin to marijuana.|
|Singapore||See Misuse of Drugs Act (Singapore).|
|South Korea||Drug trafficking can result in a death penalty; however, South Korea has not had an execution for such offenses since 1997.|
|Taiwan||Legal penalty under Narcotics Hazard Prevention Act, though rarely enforced in recent years. Last execution for drug trafficking offense is on October 7, 2002, although there exists those on death row.|
|United Arab Emirates|
|United States||Very large quantities or mixtures (e.g. on an industrial scale) of heroin, cocaine, ecgonine, phencyclidine (PCP), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana, or methamphetamine may result in the death penalty in the United States. So far, no prisoner has been put on death row for this reason. While the United States Supreme Court in Kennedy v. Louisiana struck down capital punishment for crimes that do not result in the death of a victim, it has left open the possibility for "offenses against the State" – including crimes such as "drug kingpin activity" (also, treason and espionage).|
No administration, Republican or Democrat, has acted on that statutory authority.
|Making this discussion somewhat easier is the fact that in a recent case totally unrelated to drug trafficking (the case itself addressed the constitutionality of imposing the death penalty for rape of a child where no death occurs), Kennedy v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court conducted a detailed analysis of the distinction between crimes that do and do not take a human life and the relationship of each type of crime to the death penalty. Within this analysis, in a non-binding portion of the Court’s opinion (dictum), the Court drew an analytical line separating “offenses against the individual” from “offenses against the State.” In its holding, the Kennedy Court stated that, at least within the category of “offenses against the individual,” the death penalty is unconstitutional for crimes that do not take a human life, because the punishment of death is “excessive” and “disproportionate” to the crime, pursuant to the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” With respect to the other category, however – “offenses against the State” – including crimes such as drug trafficking (and treason and espionage), even when they do not result in a death, the Court left open the possibility that the death penalty might not be unconstitutionally “excessive” punishment.|