As a global discussion about ending drug prohibition is underway, a buried admission by Richard Nixon’s former aide went viral this week.
In this month’s Harper’s Magazine cover story on the miserable failure of drug prohibition, “Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs”, author Dan Baum opens with a question he posed in a 1994 interview with Nixon’s top adviser, John Ehrlichman who died in 1999. “How did the United States entangle itself in a policy of drug prohibition that has yielded so much misery and so few good results?”
John Ehrlichman’s response: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
This reprehensible, racist and counterproductive policy put the US on a punitive path that resulted in disproportionate drug arrests, mass incarceration and has decimated many communities across the country.
“This is all very telling that institutional racism is stitched into the fabric of the drug war and beyond, and its damaging influence has outlived Nixon’s appalling legacy,” writes the Drug Policy Alliance.
Calling the failed drug war impossible to ignore as billions of dollars have been wasted and millions of lives destroyed by draconian punishment, Baum concludes, “Now, for the first time, we have an opportunity to change course….legalize it all.”
In April, the United Nations will dedicate a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to discussing global drug policy. In the run-up to the UN meeting, Human Rights Watch will publish a series of articles examining the range of human rights abuses caused by the War on Drugs.
Ending the war on drugs, which is really a war on people, says Baum in Harpers, “…is a matter of imagination and management, two things on which Americans justifiably pride themselves. We can do this.”