The memo follows remarks from President Donald Trump on Monday calling for some drug dealers to be sentenced to death.
"We can have all the blue-ribbon committees we want, but if we don't get tough on drug dealers we're wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty," Trump said in a speech in New Hampshire.
The statutes allowing prosecutors to pursue the death penalty are already embedded in U.S. law. But the 1994 provisions permitting the execution of certain drug traffickers — even those who have been involved in drug-related murders — has never been used, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
Still, Sessions said in a previous statement that the Justice Department under the Trump administration will "continue to aggressively prosecute drug traffickers and we will use federal law to seek the death penalty wherever appropriate."
Here is Sessions' Wednesday memo:
The opioid epidemic has inflicted an unprecedented toll of addiction, suffering, and death on communities throughout our nation. Drug overdoses, including overdoses caused by the lethal substance fentanyl and its analogues, killed more than 64,000 Americans in 2016 and now rank as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. In the face of all of this death, we cannot continue with business as usual.
Drug traffickers, transnational criminal organizations, and violent street gangs all contribute substantially to this scourge. To combat this deadly epidemic, federal prosecutors must consider every lawful tool at their disposal. This includes designating an opioid coordinator in every district, fully utilizing the data analysis of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, as well as using criminal and civil remedies available under federal law to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for unlawful practices.
In addition, this should also include the pursuit of capital punishment in appropriate cases. Congress has passed several statutes that provide the Department with the ability to seek capital punishment for certain drug-related crimes. Among these are statutes that punish certain racketeering activities (18 U.S.C. § 1959); the use of a firearm resulting in death during a drug trafficking crime (18 U.S.C. § 924(j)); murder in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise (21 U.S.C. § 848(e)); and dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs (18 U.S.C. § 3591(b)(1)). I strongly encourage federal prosecutors to use these statutes, when appropriate, to aid in our continuing fight against drug trafficking and the destruction it causes in our nation.