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A Time to Say "Bye" to Nancy Reagan and Her Bad Stance on the War on Drugs

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    Nancy Reagan, the former first lady and widow of President Ronald Reagan died on Sunday in California at age 94. Front pages around the world are remembering her life. The stories all talk about the powerful love between Nancy and Ronald and her impactful role as first lady. When highlighting her advocacy, one of the first things that often pops up is her starring role in President Reagan's embrace and amplification of the war on drugs. Nancy's "Just Say No" campaign became her signature issue and a defining legacy for both her and her husband.

    Having spent the last 16 years working at the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that believes the war on drugs is a failure and drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal issue, Nancy and Ronald Reagan bring up a lot of emotions for me. While the press often talk about their strength, love and optimism, I see two people who are most responsible for our country's mass incarceration and destruction of millions of people's lives.

    Richard Nixon officially launched the drug war in 1971, but his war was modest compared to Reagan's war. Reagan's presidency marked the start of a long period of skyrocketing rates of incarceration, largely thanks to his unprecedented expansion of the drug war. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law violations increased from 50,000 in 1980 to more than 400,000 by 1997.

    Who can forget Nancy Reagan sitting in classrooms and all over our television sets with her simplistic "Just Say No" campaign? It was during this time that the DARE programs were implemented in schools across the country, despite their lack of effectiveness. Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who believed that "casual drug users should be taken out and shot," founded the DARE program, which was quickly adopted nationwide.

    The Reagans' "war at home" was not only ineffective, it was disastrous. Upon taking office in 1981, Reagan shifted drug control resources from health agencies to the Department of Justice. It was under Reagan's guidance in 1986 that the worst of the federal mandatory minimum drug laws were passed into law. These laws included the crack sentencing guidelines that meant that someone possessing just 5 grams (two sugar packets) worth of crack received an automatic 5 years in prison. These laws filled our prisons for decades with low-level drug users.

    The irony is that Ronald Reagan's own daughter developed a cocaine problem, but I don't imagine the Reagans pushed for her to serve 5 years in a cage for her addiction. No, it was African Americans, who despite using drugs at similar rates as whites, were targeted by law enforcement and incarcerated at grossly disproportionate rates.

    Ronald Reagan's harsh drug policies not only led to exploding prisons, they blocked expansion of syringe exchange programs and other harm reduction policies that could have prevented hundreds of thousands of people from contracting HIV and dying from AIDS.

    While Ronald and Nancy Reagan were demonizing people who use drugs at home, their foreign policy objectives included funding the Contras in Nicaragua who played a role in flooding Los Angeles and other cities in the United States with crack cocaine.

    While the press attention being given to Nancy's passing obviously mentions Nancy's passion around young people and drugs, the coverage often doesn't do enough to contextualize the Reagans' radical escalation of the drug war. We don't hear enough about the exploding prison populations that continue today to bankrupt our state budgets. We don't hear enough about the war on science and public health that led to so many people contracting HIV - even though the evidence was and still is clear that providing access to syringes does not increase drug use and helps save lives. And we don't hear enough about the militarization of our country, from cops in the schools to SWAT teams routinely breaking down doors.

    While Nancy and Ronald Reagan are no longer with us physically, the public hysteria that they whipped up and the draconian, zero-tolerance drug policies that were implemented in the 1980s, are still alive and kicking today.

    Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance.

    By Tony Newman - MSN/March 7, 2016
    Photo: examiner
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. Cwb20022
    I think its very distasteful to have a dig at someone who just passed away. While i dont agree with her stance or the war on drugs. Her heart was in the right place. And she had a valid stance on drugs and there use. Although different from mine. But she just died. A little respect would be nice.
  2. AKA_freckles
    Yes. I was waiting for an article about this, and you picked a great one B.

    The anger from the author here is obvious, no pussyfooting around. Nancy and Ron destroyed countless lives with their whitebread idealistic nonsense. I love it.

    Nancy deserves no praise, she had a long life to change her mind and her words, but she never did.

    Edit - CWB we were writing at the same time, and we are so different on this it's funny. I also did a little dance when Scalia died, but that's just me.
  3. tatittle
    Tell the jazz musicians of the 1940's and 50's that Nixon launched the drug war. You might not know it from the article, but Congress writes and passes legislation like the mandatory sentences discussed, not the president.
  4. DeepGreenSea
    CWB is a sweetie...but men are often weird about Death.

    I'm dancing on both Scalia and old Nancy's graves...

    Forgive us Cwb-but when your body is a Life Engine you aren't as squeamish about Death.
    And don't be fooled by Nancy-that was a woman who wanted Power and Took It. Her heart was squarely in concordance with her Own Will to Dominate. She would've walked over the dead bodies of thousands of addicts to get to her Throne. Count on it.

    It's why she lived so long.
  5. Nosferatus
    She was peripherally involved at best, her absence would not have made a lick of difference. People get unnecessarily hung up on involved individuals rather than focusing on the actual issue, remember that politicians don't do anything without the consent of their citizens, a poor choice is still a choice.
  6. Diverboone
    One of the most hypocritical administrations ever known. To allow cocaine importation and using the profits to fund special interest programs, that otherwise would have went unfunded, Then incarcerate many of those that were caught with the very same cocaine that was allowed to be imported. That's unacceptable.

    I highly doubt Nancy had any remorse for the thousands that have died in prison, serving a harsh drug crime sentences. For an imaginary crime, hurting no one other than their self. I'm sure the remorseless population is larger than what one would expect. This couple backed, sponsored and signed into law some of the harshest drug sentencing reforms ever known.
  7. Nosferatus
    ^^That allowing cocaine into the US to fund the contras thing is dubious at best, and even if it's 100% true, it's the CIA that's rumoured to have done it, government agencies don't necessarily answer directly to the head of state, shadowy spook agencies even less so. If it happened it's highly probable the president knew nothing about it, and people arrested for possessing the involved cocaine were arrested by other agencies, how is that hypocritical? Personally I think that theory is bullshit, the CIA works for the richest government in the world, they could just give money to anyone they want to advance the cause of, and gain direct influence in the process, I don't agree with drug laws either, but personally attacking those you disagree with destroys your credibility.
  8. rollerz70
    Nos- I do agree with what you say. But then it brings to mind something thats not denaible. What happened when they started the war on drugs? It beefed up police technology, gave new laws which more laws means freedoms taken away. This country keeps moving toward a militarized nation. How many freedoms have been twindeled since 1970? Heres the best part. They make all these new laws so they have more power overall in the big picture. They can get these things done in a few days when they really want to. But let some normal citizen try to bring to their attention to one of the many outdated laws that that need changed. Unless its helping that one persons buttom line for what the want to become in the future- lifetime politican- those laws will most likely stay the way they are.
    Only when enough people start voicing that they want x y or z to happen will it might make a difference. People have turned over so much of their lives to the government and now just get tossed around to horrible baby sitters. The size of the government has tremendous growth spruts when its claimed a war on something.
    So whats my point? I hate cell phones...
  9. Diverboone
    You indeed do have the right to your opinion. But If you ill reread my post. You'll see that I blamed the whole administration for being hypocritical, not just Ms Regan.

    Whether Mr. Regan was aware of the CIA's activities was a popular subject in the News during the Iran-Contra probes and testimony in front of Congress. Mr. Regan repeatedly stated "I Don't Rightfully Recall". This was a tactical 5th Amend. maneuver. Mr Regan was legally barred from exerting his 5th Amend protections. But he successfully used "I Don't Rightfully Recall" as a pseudo 5th Amend protection against self incrimination.

    I'm quite sure Ms Regan had no knowledge of these smuggling activities at the time. But she could not escape not knowing after this was testified to in front of Congress. To my knowledge neither Mr or Ms Regan never made any apologies nor accept any responsibility for the illegal acts of our own government.

    Your welcome to think that theory is "bullshit". Least it shows someone is thinking something about it.
  10. Nosferatus
    Rollerz: The concept of creating the enemy you need is not exactly a new one, why is it uniquely bad in this case? As I've always said, the government does nothing without the consent (explicit or implicit) of it's citizens, things like The War On Drugs wouldn't happen if the majority didn't approve of them, and that's just how life is, a poor choice is still a choice.

    Diverboone: Again, I have a hard time believing that the CIA engaged in that when there was no logical reason to, but agencies like that aren't noted for their consistently above board activities, so anything's possible, still, it's entirely possible Reagan knew nothing about it, and even if he did, most people will lie to save face or keep from getting in trouble, why should he be any different?
  11. Waiting For The Fall
    Nancy was not peripheral to the story. She was front and center stage throughout the infancy of the DARE program and as long as she resided at The White House. Her face was everywhere--in news stories, public service announcements, posters and whatever media was available to her. Since Daryl Gates, our police chief in Los Angeles (where I grew up), founded the DARE program, Nancy ran with it and took over its ownership. We got a double whammy from his department and the national program.

    You couldn't stop behind a car at a stoplight without seeing a DARE bumper sticker. Children were indoctrinated to turn in their parents for drug use, would bring baggies of pot to school to turn over to their teachers, whereupon it went to the authorities for investigation.

    Unless you lived in those times, you cannot understand our fear of what Nancy wrought and disgust about the lies told. She was an actress, and a very believable one.
  12. AKA_freckles
    ^^^ I agree with all of this.

    Nosferatus you put forth some good points, but I really think you would have had to lived in the U.S. in the 80's to understand the level of hysteria and drug abuse saturation/ propoganda Nancy caused. She was absolutely a key player.

    In some ways I think first ladies were probably more powerful in the olden days, because that's when women still had no power in the relationship other than emotional. Now women have careers and lives, things are more equal and businesslike. Back then, the power dynamic was uneven at best, and often women resorted to using emotional tactics and manipulation to get what they wanted.

    The elements of that old way of thinking are still evident in some women, but it's no where near as common.

    Pretty sure Nancy withheld the punanni (vulva/vagina) until she got what she wanted, and she wanted a drug war .
  13. Nosferatus
    I agree that drugs were the communists and terrorists of the 80's, that's just how US politics works, find a common enemy to rally against, yes she supported an ultimately detrimental action of the government, but people didn't have to listen, you can't blame one person or entity for culture at the time.
  14. perro-salchicha614
    Wait a minute... Are you saying that Nancy Reagan's cooch had a direct impact on the War on Drugs? Sorry, that just made me crack up a little. :p
  15. Nosferatus
    ^^Very funny, but I'm not sure where you got that from.
  16. perro-salchicha614
    Oh, that was for Freckles, not you. Read the last line of her post. :p
  17. Nosferatus
    Ah, fair enough, there's a reason slang isn't allowed here :p, the question is, would Nancy Reagan's punani be sufficient motivation to get anyone to do anything?
  18. AKA_freckles
    Lol I will edit my post to reflect that slang / language issue. I guess i thought everyone had seen "poetic justice". Plus I misspelled it, it's "Punani" lol.

    Yes perro, I do believe Nancy Reagan's cooch started the drug war. meow power.
  19. Nosferatus
    Lol honestly I missed it the first time, however I only know the word from a Russell Peters routine about his dad thinking it was a kind of fruit and asking for it at the store. Anyhoo, Mrs. Reagan would hardly be the first woman to compel a man to do something incredibly stupid by that route, that little patch of fur rules the world.
  20. horsefeathers123
    With all due respect to the man who urged a little respect for Nancy Reagan, because she just died, I have to say, there is no sense in having respect for people who have behaved dishonorably. Nancy Reagan's heart was not in the right place, because she accepted the fact that people would be horribly punished under the enlarged War on Drugs. If you know that someone is going to suffer due to your action, you are MORALLY RESPONSIBLE for investigating your proposals. And if Nancy Reagan had thoroughly investigated what effects her proposals would have had, she would either: 1) be appalled at the truth, and remove her support from the War on Drugs, or, 2) she would not be appalled at all. In which case, she would be a completely dishonorable human being. So, either she was stupid beyond belief, or she was essentially a dishonorable person. Myself, I go for the dishonorable person explanation. I feel a sense of relief that she is dead.
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