YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Reagans' War on Drugs

September 21, 1986

So, the House of Representatives gives its OK for the military to act as police during peacetime and intercept drug traffic. It's permissible for police to use evidence gathered illegally as long as it was done "in good faith."

Employers are conducting urinalyses to find who is using drugs. Children are reporting their parents to the police.

Anyone see a pattern here? Anyone think all this sounds just a little too familiar?

What we have here is the 1980s remake of the Red Scare. The Red Scare of the 1950s, starring Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Civil rights were thrown to the winds like dead leaves, all in the name of making the country safe from communism. This year, all we're doing is changing the color of the villain from red to white.

In passing a measure to permit the military to intercept drug traffic, the House went against the advice of civil libertarians, the Pentagon, and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, and broke a law that dates back to the Civil War. Seems the government tried something like that just following the war and it created quite a few problems and abuses.

And, the House says it's OK for the police to use evidence gathered without warrant or proper procedure. It's only for drugs, now, but the precedent is set. So, a police officer comes up to your house to talk Neighborhood Watch or sell tickets to the police ball and sees something he doesn't like. It's OK to haul you in; the law was passed in 1986.

But the police have to act in good faith when they break the law. Now, what cop is going to testify he wanted to nail someone no matter what it took? Dirty Harry? And what prosecuting attorney is going to allow his star witness to testify he made a mistake and blow his whole case?

And now we have our employers doing the job of police as well. Having our bosses conduct urinalyses makes the mere presence of a controlled substance wrong. It doesn't matter if the employee can do his job. It doesn't matter whether you did pot for the first time in five years or do coke every night; you tested positive and you're out on the street.

So, why stop at drugs? How about booze? A morning Breathalyzer exam should weed out any potential alcoholics or drunken drivers, anyone who could undermine the law or the gross national product.

Sure, this is America. It could never happen here. Or could it? Remember the 1950s and McCarthyism? Remember the '60s and '70s and illegal wiretaps? How about the '40s and the thousands of Japanese-Americans forced from their homes and into internment camps?

The government thought it had good reasons then, too.


San Diego

Los Angeles Times Articles