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Drug Control Policy of the Republican Party
By Steve Hoenisch
Last updated on July 29, 2004
Copyright 1996-2008 www.Criticism.Com
This essay appears in The Encyclopedia of the American Democratic and Republican Parties, published by the International Encyclopedia Society. The encyclopedia won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award in 1997.
1 A Leading Role
2 Republicans Lose the War on Drugs
4.1 Republican Party
4.2 Democratic Party
5 Bestselling Books on Republican Party
Members of the Republican Party have played a lead role in the often bipartisan issue of drug control policy. The party has generally stood unified on the need for drug control; splits within the party usually have taken place over the priorities, funding levels, or strategies for controlling drugs.
Although the drug issue has persisted throughout U.S. political history since Congress moved in 1887 to restrict the importation of opium into the United States and later enacted the landmark Harrison Narcotics Act to regulate professionals dealing with narcotic drugs in 1914, it was conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan who elevated the issue to the national spotlight with his War on Drugs of early the 1980s. Since, the issue has remained of significant public and political importance, with members of the Republican Party trying during elections to outdo one another with antidrug promises and elected officials of the party quarreling over the best way to interdict drugs and squelch abuse.
In the 1980s, President Reagan expanded the federal government's drug interdiction effort while Nancy Reagan, the first lady, led a "Just Say No" campaign against drugs that equated use with immorality. During the Reagan administration, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which greatly expanded the war against on trafficking and abuse. A three-way division soon emerged among prominent Republicans in the Reagan administration over how to carry out the drug war. Attorney General Edwin Meese advocated getting tough with drug users. He said drug testing should be required of all workers, arguing that it reduces accidents and boosts productivity while keeping people from disobeying the law. Another faction, led by Otis Bowen, Reagan's secretary of health and human services, stressed education and rehabilitation, an approach often taken by Democrats. William J. Bennett, a conservative who served as Reagan's Secretary of Education, argued for greater military involvement in stemming the influx of drugs. He also urged Reagan to appoint a drug czar, but the president opposed it on grounds that it would necessitate more "big government."
Despite the Reagan administration's efforts to eradicate drugs, many political analysts saw the issue as a political defeat for Reagan, largely because the war against drugs had not been won. And many thought it could not be won.
But that view did not stop Republican President George Bush from continuing Reagan's antidrug efforts. After passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which created a cabinet-level drug czar, Bush appointed Bennett to the post after Republican Senator Dennis DeConcini of Arizona turned it down. Bennett focused on combatting street sales of drugs and on financing antidrug efforts in the countries from which the drugs were originating.
Other Republicans have also played a significant role in fighting drug use. In 1970, Republican President Richard Nixon helped encourage passage of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act, which reinforced narcotics penalties. In the mid 1990s, Republicans, led by conservative Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the Speaker of the House, pressured the administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton to rethink its emphasis on providing drug addicts with treatment while limiting support for overseas antidrug campaigns. The Clinton approach, Republicans argue, fails to effectively diminish the supply of illicit drugs, thereby stimulating drug use.
Gingrich, in particular, has been among the most outspoken conservatives against drug traffickers during the mid 1990s. He said that anyone responsible for shipping drugs into the country should be put to death.
In view of such antidrug campaigns as those of Gingrich, Bennett, and Reagan, it has been conservatives who have usually led the antidrug charge among Republicans, but they have often been backed by their more moderate colleagues.
Bacon, Donald C.; Davidson, Roger H.; Keller, Morton; editors. The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Barnes, Fred. "Dopey." The New Republic, May 23, 1988.
Feeley, Malcolm M. and Sarat, Austin D. The Policy Dilemma: Federal Crime Policy and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980.
Gest, Ted. "Congress and Cops." U.S. News & World Report. December 26, 1994.
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