In the 1980s, Nancy Reagan adopted an anti-drug policy with the spectacularly ridiculed “Just Say No” campaign. The country sniggered. And wondered if the President’s wife, the astrologer-consulting, fierce defender of all things Ronnie, had given her policy much thought. Anyone who was there will also remember the unforgettable fried egg, “this is your brain on drugs” nonsense.
But guess what, the fried egg campaign is back with added spice. And Mrs. Reagan’s message was better than anything else the government did on the drug front in the Reagan era — or indeed anytime during the inexorably pointless and expensive “war on drugs”.
She at least identified the right end of the drug supply/demand arc to attack (demand). And in her failure, she didn’t create any new criminals or drive profits to drug cartels. Let me explain.
You can’t stop people sinning by removing the chance to sin, but only by removing the desire to sin. Take Prohibition. A crowd of religious do-gooders (sound familiar) thought Americans were drinking too much. Their solution was to prohibit alcohol. It didn’t work for 13 years. And it didn’t work so well that drinking rates went up and the cocktail was invented.
Not to mention that thousands died, some innocent. And fortunes were made by men with enough intelligence to understand that were there's want; there's profit - if you have the moxie to grasp it.
No alcoholic has been cured of his disease by making it hard to buy alcohol. And no drug addict spontaneously rehabs because some blithering blowhard builds a wall somewhere.
For 5O years our strategy has been to interdict drugs. To arrest those who make/grow them, transport them, wholesale them, retail them and even those who use them. And what do we have to show for it? Sweet fuck all, as the Brits would say. Drugs are stronger. There’s a new designer number every week. Opiate addiction is through the roof. And people are dying in ever greater numbers.
Luckily, police departments and local courts have cottoned to the idea that it is cheaper and more productive to treat addiction as a disease and not a crime. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs with positive effects on the rate of drug use. And even fiscal conservatives in the US have made common cause with empathetic liberals in exploring non-criminal justice solutions to drug abuse.
Unfortunately, the message is lost on Trump, who despite a promise to tackle the drug scourge, has committed no resources to it, besides pretty words and an obsession with an ineffective border barrier. Joined in this pursuit of feel-good, do-nothing policies is his dimwitted AG, Jeff Sessions, who remains one of the few Americans obsessed with pot.
So Nancy, I apologize. I’ve done you wrong. Compared with these antediluvian thinkers, and their determination to cleave to all that has failed, you were a breath of fresh air. You may not have moved the ball far, but at least you moved it in the right direction.