Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jun 2004
Source: DrugSense Weekly
Section: Feature Article
Author: Stephen Young
Note: Stephen Young is an editor with DrugSense Weekly and the author of 
Maximizing Harm,


In 1986, U.S.  President Ronald Reagan made history by urinating. Sure, 
it's something every president since Washington had done, but Reagan was 
the first to pee into a bottle for a drug test.

He did it voluntarily, but a few months later, Reagan signed an executive 
order requiring all federal agencies to plan urine tests for employees in 
sensitive positions.  It was a turning point in the fledgling drug-testing 
industry, now a multi-billion dollar powerhouse which recently convinced 
federal legislators that collecting urine is not enough; they want the 
hair, sweat and saliva of federal workers as well (see ).

The drug-testing industry is one part of Reagan's drug war legacy. While he 
was in office, he presented himself as an enemy of overreaching government. 
But at the same time he demanded increased freedom for Soviet citizens, his 
rhetoric and policies pushed the U.S.  government further and further into 
the personal lives of Americans.

Reagan wasn't the first president to promote and expand the drug war.  And 
the U.S. Congress during his terms challenged his excesses with nothing but 
more excessiveness.  But Reagan set the tone for the immense bloating of 
the drug war during the 80s.

Reagan, at certain points in his administration, seemed obsessed by drugs. 
In "Smoke and Mirrors," journalist Dan Baum's excellent history of the 
modern drug war, Reagan is portrayed trying to get every aspect of the 
government involved in the drug war.

"Let's go around the table," Baum quotes Reagan during cabinet 
meetings.  "Cap?" he addressed Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. "What 
are you doing for the War on Drugs?" Every member of the cabinet, from 
labor to agriculture, would be quizzed on what he was contributing to the 

Reagan and his first lady were vocal supporters of Straight Inc., an 
alleged drug rehab program for youth that employed psychological and 
physical abuse.

"We want you to help us create an outspoken intolerance for drug use," said 
Mrs.  Reagan with the President by her side during a nationally televised 
address in 1985.  "For the sake of our children, I implore each of you to 
be unyielding and inflexible in your opposition to drugs."

Many paint the Reagan administration as victorious in the war on drugs 
because self-reports of drug use declined while Reagan was in office.  But 
that analysis overlooks the onset of those reported declines, which took 
place before Reagan's term began.  Another way to measure the success of 
Reagan's drug war is to look at the crack market that was created during 
his term in office.  Before the Reagan years, no one knew what crack 
cocaine was, but by the time George H.W.  Bush took Reagan's place in the 
Oval Office, the new president claimed to be able to buy crack across the 
street from the White House.

Far from keeping crack under control, Reagan's policies launched the crack 
revolution.  "Dark Alliance," journalist Gary Webb's controversial but 
thoroughly documented book, explains the relationship between the CIA, the 
Contras and the crack epidemic. While many Reagan retrospectives have noted 
the Iran-Contra scandal as the low point in Reagan's administration, the 
drug angle has been generally overlooked.

Due to human rights abuse, the U.S.  Congress had cut funding for the 
Contras, who were attempting to undermine Nicaragua's Socialist government. 
Reagan's administration wanted to continue funding the Contras, regardless 
of the congress and regardless of law.  So they used profits from illegally 
selling arms to Iran to pay for the Contra effort.  This much is 
well-known; less analyzed is the Contras' financial support through drug 
trafficking.  Not only was this arrangement overlooked by officials in the 
Reagan administration, Webb presents evidence that it was condoned and 

Webb goes even further, tracing the first loads of crack to hit Los Angeles 
streets in the mid-80s back to the Contra efforts.

The paradoxical nature of Reagan's war on drugs isn't exceptional; it 
mirrors the whole history of prohibition.  Seemingly noble words about 
protecting the children are always twisted into corruption and abuse, soon 
to be forgotten as the children face even more dangers from the efforts to 
save them.

I imagine Reagan the optimist was immune from such dark thoughts.  I 
imagine he took genuine pride after filling a bottle to prove his chemical 
integrity back in 1986.  It's a shame Reagan's vision of a drug-free 
America has left the rest of us as a nation messily pissing in the wind.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake