Toni Preckwinkle Reagan hell

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, pictured with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011, said she regrets saying former President Ronald Reagan deserves a "special place in hell." (AP)

A Chicago-area official apologized after saying former President Ronald Reagan deserves a “special place in hell” for his part in stepping up the war on drugs.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a Democrat, said her language Tuesday was “inflammatory,” but stood by her criticism about the “failure of the war on drugs to end illegal drug use or sales in this country.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Preckwinkle was defending the city of Chicago’s recent move to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, allowing police officers to write tickets instead of make arrests. She said drug treatment should be part of the health care system, not criminal justice and said Reagan deserves a “special place in hell” for his role in “making drugs political.” Reagan, who died in 2004, was born in Illinois.

Preckwinkle’s remarks prompted gasps from the audience, the newspaper reported.

“What? You didn’t like that?” she responded.

Preckwinkle said in a written statement afterward that she regretted her remark.

“I have been outspoken on the failure of the War on Drugs to end illegal drug use or sales in this country. However, this is too complicated to lay all of it out on President Reagan’s doorstep and inflammatory language only distracts from the larger issue.”

Illinois Republicans seized on the comment, with state GOP chairman Pat Brady calling it “a new low” for the “Chicago Democrat Machine.”

“We all knew that the Chicago Democrat Machine was capable of being the most ruthless and negative campaign operation in the country,” Brady said in a statement, according to WBBM-TV. “President [Barack] Obama and his political advisers were all trained in Chicago, but remarks made Tuesday by Cook County Board President Democrat Toni Preckwinkle reached a new low.”

Preckwinkle reiterated to the Chicago Tribune her belief that “drug policy in this country has been in the wrong direction for 30 years.”

“If I had it to do over again, I certainly wouldn’t say anything quite so inflammatory,” she told the newspaper. “But my position basically remains the same.”