Weekly News Roundup: Nancy Reagan Brought the Drug War to Ames, ISU Continues Pot T-Shirt Fight

White House

Following the death of former first lady Nancy Reagan on Sunday, the Ames Tribune interviewed Youth and Shelter Services founder and former CEO George Belitsos and Ames Mayor Ann Campbell about a trip Reagan made to the shelter for at-risk youth in 1982 to promote her Just Say No anti-drug propaganda campaign, a big part of President Reagan’s War on Drugs. The pair had glowing words for the first lady. “It really put our program in the limelight because it was shown nationally,” said Belitsos, who added that the exposure helped YSS secure needed state and federal funding. Campbell, who chaired the YSS board at the time of the visit, said: “We were still in the early stages, I think, of recognizing that drugs were an issue with children of impressionable ages and so certainly bringing attention to the fact that this was not just an issue in Ames but something that had become one nationwide, I think was very helpful.”

Helpful for YSS, perhaps, but the Just Say No campaign was a disaster. Programs operating under its simplistic concept like DARE, created by the LAPD in 1983, failed, much like the War on Drugs itself. Far worse were the influence of Just Say No and the Reagan Drug War on zero-tolerance drug laws passed by Congress in the ’80s that created school-to-prison pipelines with officers laying harsh penalties on schoolchildren — in particular, minorities — not just for drug violations but minor misbehavior. In other words, the program essentially accomplished the opposite of what it set out to do, sabotaging children’s futures through misguided efforts to keep them away from drugs.

In Ames, YSS has long fought against alcohol and drugs. It secures grants to fund police sting operations on bars; in 2009, when the Singer Station head shop opened (now under new ownership and called High Class Glass) Belitsos tried to convince its owner to rethink his business. And last fall, without any real evidence, YSS and Ames police got local media outlets to parrot their claims that Ames youth were increasingly using pot because of THC-heavy strains being shipped in from Colorado, where weed’s legal, supposedly leading to more minors seeking treatment to get off the drug.

ISU asks for stay of NORML ISU T-shirt ruling — again: Speaking of weed, Iowa State University hasn’t given up on its fight to prohibit the university’s student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws from putting pot leaves on T-shirts bearing ISU’s logos, despite District Court Judge James Gritzner’s order in January that ISU begin allowing the group to immediately. Last month, ISU asked Gritzner to stay that order pending an appeals court appeal; he shot that down, ruling that students’ First Amendment rights outweighed the university’s branding concerns. Now, ISU is asking for a delay of Gritzner’s order from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (on which potential Obama Supreme Court nominee Jane Kelly sits).

Branstad unveils water cleanup plan: Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed a $4.7 billion, three-decade plan to clean up the nitrate and phosphorous in Iowa’s waterways that far exceed regional standards. The plan, which would be financed by partially diverting tax revenues for school facilities to the project, failed to impress environmental groups because the plan doesn’t target the polluters.

Medicaid anti-privatization bills die: Today is the state Legislature’s second funnel deadline. Among the legislation to die this time around are bills that would have prevented the April 1 privatization from happening at all and another that would have increased oversight of the transition. Both died, unsurprisingly, in human resources subcommittees of the GOP-controlled House.

Mark Chelgren bows out of congressional bid: Chelgren, the state senator who wants to execute undocumented immigrants for simply re-entering the country after being deported for felonies — and this week voted against protecting transgender people from hate crimes — has announced he won’t challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack for his eastern Iowa congressional district seat.

Bakken pipeline approved: The Iowa Utilities Board and Iowa Department of Natural Resources, with a few stipulations, both approved construction permits for Dakota Access LLC’s Bakken crude oil pipeline project on Thursday. Read our coverage on that here.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.