Friday: 25th Anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s Infamous Oval Office Speech Escalating “War on Drugs”

Press Release September 3, 2014
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On September 5th, 1989 President George H.W. Bush gave a speech from the Oval Office that defined a generation (link:  Declaring an escalation of the war on drugs he held up a bag of crack cocaine that he said undercover agents bought in the park across the street from the White House. It later turned out that federal agents lured someone to the park to sell crack just so the president could say it was bought from in front of the White House (the crack seller did not even know where the White House was and had to ask for directions). (Link:

“President H.W. Bush’s crack speech defined the irrational zero tolerance drug policies of the times that put ideology and politics above science and health,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “Millions of Americans were incarcerated, hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, and hundreds of thousands of human beings allowed to die of AIDS – all in the name of a ‘war on drugs’ that did nothing to reduce drug abuse.  But fortunately the country is at last coming to its senses and embracing alternatives to those failed policies.”

During the speech President Bush pledged one billion dollars for the drug war because “we need more jails, more prisons, more courts and more prosecutors.” The speech epitomized the bipartisan frenzy at the time to appear anti-drug – draconian mandatory minimum sentences were enacted, including the 100-to-1 crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity that created huge racial disparities for years to come; using federal HIV/AIDS funding to make sterile syringes available to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, heptatitis and other diseases was prohibited; a brand new agency, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (more commonly known as the drug czar’s office) was created to coordinate America’s punitive drug policies.

Yet just 25 years later the war on drugs is unraveling and seems destined for the ash heap of history:

“With Congress rolling back punitive drug policies and leading presidential candidates talking about alternatives to the war on drugs it is doubtful another president will hold a special address to talk about escalating the war on drugs,” said Nadelmann. “If anything it’s probably only a matter of time before a president uses an address to make the case for legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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