Nancy Reagan, Drug Warrior

Jacob Sullum on the late first lady’s biggest legacy:

“We must create an atmosphere of intolerance for drug use in this country,” she wrote in the Post. “Each of us has an obligation to take an individual stand against drugs. Each of us has a responsibility to be intolerant of drug use anywhere, anytime, by anybody.”

Two months later, the first lady appeared on television with her husband, who declared “another war for our freedom,” a campaign that would include widespread drug testing, stepped-up interdiction efforts, a dramatic increase in drug arrests, and mandatory minimum sentences—all at a time when illegal drug use was declining. “There’s no moral middle ground,” Nancy Reagan declared when it was her turn to speak. “Indifference is not an option. We want you to help us create an outspoken intolerance for drug use. For the sake of our children, I implore each of you to be unyielding and inflexible in your opposition to drugs.”

The collateral damage of our government’s “inflexibility” is damning.


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