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Anti-Drug Abuse Act

In 1986, President and Mrs. Reagan addressed the nation over their perceived threat of the current drug epidemic. The continuing War on Drugs led Congress to pass, in the wake of President Reagan’s address, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which largely changed the nature of the federal supervised release program, an alternative to incarceration, from one of rehabilitation into one of punishment. Anti-Drug Abuse ActAdditionally, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 imposed mandatory sentences for drug possession.

The specific target of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was crack cocaine, which imposed stiffer penalties than much larger amounts of powder cocaine. Critics charged that the vast majority of offenders with crack cocaine were African American, while possessors of powder cocaine were overwhelmingly white. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was amended two years later, under the aptly-named Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which set the policy goal of a “drug-free America” and established the Office of National Drug Control Policy, led by the so-called “Drug Czar.”

Both of these laws were part of the ramped-up War on Drugs undertaken by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. Much of the effort was led by Mrs. Reagan and her “Just Say No” campaign that sought to reach school children across the nation. Others believe that the entire effort has led to overwhelming incarceration rates in the United States.

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