Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on Signing the Executive Order Establishing the White House Conference for a Drug Free America

May 05, 1987

Thank you all. Members of the Congress, here, and members of the Cabinet and all of you, ladies and gentlemen: It's a pleasure to have you all join us here in the Rose Garden as we kick off the White House Conference on a Drug Free America. I think we see in this conference and in the efforts of Americans across this land a growing commitment to solving the problem of drug abuse in our society.

It's a little bit like a story I like to tell and maybe have told to some of you. Pretend I haven't, if you've heard it. [Laughter] But the fellow that took up golf—and he lined one out there and went down and found his ball was sitting right in front of an ants' nest. Got out an iron, and he took a cut at it. Didn't hit the ball at all, but lifted the ant nest into the air—the anthill and about a thousand ants. And he lined up again and took another crack at it, and all he hit was more sand and ant nest. And when he lined up for the third shot, there were two ants down there, and one of them said to the other, "If we want to survive, we'd better get on the ball." [Laughter] It comes in handy in occasions like this—this story.

But America is on the ball. We've come a long way from just a decade ago, when it was trendy to talk about recreational drugs that should be decriminalized or simply regulated. We now know what drugs are, and we're not shy about saying it. Drugs are an evil, pure and simple—an evil that destroys lives, steals our children's future, and undermines the foundations of our free society. We've seen a nationwide revolt against this permissive attitude of the past. The catchphrase of the seventies, "Do your own thing," has been replaced in the eighties by "Just say no." And thanks in great part to the work of a very special lady in my life, there are now, you might be interested to know, something over 12,000 Just Say No clubs in schools across the United States. We've seen antidrug demonstrations, marches, and vigils held all over America, as people confront the crisis of drug abuse head on. And make no mistake, that is exactly what it is—a crisis.

I could go into all the statistics. They are, to put it simply, frightening. But most troubling of all is the testimony of our children themselves. Not just our college students or our high school students or even our junior high students—as early as the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, students are already identifying drugs as a major problem among their schoolmates. No wonder the conscience of our nation has been shocked, and no wonder that Americans have decided that the time has come as a nation to just say no, to be clearly and firmly intolerant of drug use. And when I say "as a nation," I mean just that. Combating this drug epidemic is the responsibility of every American: parents, teachers, school administrators, employers, workers and union officials, public office holders, and private organizations. And it's a responsibility that many are taking up with dramatic success. Let me cite just a few trail-blazing examples.

Recognizing that simple drug education is not enough, parents and school principals are sending out a no-nonsense message. In Northside High School in Atlanta, for example, principal Bill Rudolph announced a two-call policy. When students are caught with drugs, the first call is to the police, the second is to the parents. And let me say quite frankly here, too, that we're looking to our college administrators to become serious about fighting drug use on our nation's campuses. The time for excuses is over. Our colleges can no longer be neutral on the subject of drugs. Nobody has a right to take illegal drugs. Taking illegal drugs isn't experimenting; it's breaking the law.

Businesses, too, are getting serious and getting tough. Commonwealth Edison, to name one, offers treatment to any of its employees who ask for it. At the same time, they'll fire anyone caught with drugs at work. And the result: Absenteeism is down, and there are fewer accidents on the job. Not only employers but unions, too, have a responsibility to rid the workplace of drugs. At stake is the health, even the lives, of our nation's working men and women.

And finally, I'd like to say something about my old business, movies and the media. A 1985 report in Parade Magazine identified 60 major motion pictures, most of which had been made in the previous 5 years, that treated drug use in a positive, upbeat way, including movies that were honored in the Academy Awards. We know the tremendous influence that movies and the media have over young minds. Though some are aware of their special responsibilities and are taking positive steps, it saddens me that my old industry hasn't gotten its act together and really begun to combat drug abuse. The movie industry should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Perhaps it's time to give a thought to tightening up on that ratings system. It's hard to see why any film promoting drug use should ever be available to minors, under any circumstance. Likewise, our music industry has a responsibility to keep those who glorify drug use away from minors. I just can't help but think that some of these people who talk about their constitutional right to free speech are really more concerned with their own profits. No one has a constitutional right to sell pro-drug propaganda to minors, but parents and communities have a right, indeed they have the responsibility, to protect their children.

As I say, we must no longer be shy in demanding the right of our children, the right of all Americans, to live in a drug-free society. And the work of this Conference will be a major step forward in initiating and organizing America's antidrug campaign at every level. The White House Conference will be a continuing opportunity for citizens to share their ideas and experiences in order to vigorously and directly attack drug abuse at all levels. It will review the Nation's progress, assess what works and why, and reinvigorate our national strategy to stop the use of illegal drugs.

And I am particularly pleased to be naming Lois Haight Herrington as Chairman of the Conference. Lois has had a distinguished career and an extraordinary record working with problems extending from child safety to crime prevention, nationally and internationally. And I know that, in more ways than one, she certainly doesn't lack in energy.

So, now I've talked maybe too much, and it's time for me to get over and sign that statement there. And now, as the little girl said to me, I'll go back and go to work. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 1:20 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Signing the Executive Order Establishing the White House Conference for a Drug Free America Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives