A shocking quote from former Nixon policy advisor John Ehrlichman was released by Harper’s Magazine journalist Dan Baum regarding the true motives behind the heavily debated “war on drugs.”
Former president Richard Nixon announced the war on drugs in 1971, his administration cited high death tolls and negative social impacts as the core reasons for expanding federal drug control agencies. However, the “war” ultimately contributed to the social and economic decline of minority communities, which according to Ehrlichman was the plan all along.
"You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “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.”
It’s no secret that the war on drugs disproportionately effects black communities, which is what makes it such a hot button issue, but the clear racial disparity has always been presented as an “unintended side effect,” rather than the whole underlying purpose.
Baum’s article titled, “Legalize It All,” is meant to argue in favor of drug legalization — which is not necessarily the best idea in today’s society — but the inclusion of this quote serves as a smoking gun for black Americans who have been fighting the systematic oppression that the government has denied for decades.
Baum has written other works surrounding drug legalization without including this quote, he explained to The Huffington Post why it was previously excluded from his 1996 book “Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure:”
“There are no authorial interviews in [Smoke and Mirrors] at all; it’s written to put the reader in the room as events transpire,” Baum reportedly said in an email. “Therefore, the quote didn’t fit. It did change all the reporting I did for the book, though, and changed the way I worked thereafter.”
Baum’s recent article touches on the fact that presidents following Nixon — both Democrat and Republican — were likely very much aware of the fact that the war on drugs was an invention to marginalize “others,” but because it worked to their advantage to continue suppressing these communities there was no reason to fix what wasn’t broken, so to speak.
He lays out a comprehensive plan for how drug legalization could work by using the Netherlands and Portugal as examples, Jezebel reports. While in theory Baum’s assessment seems relatively plausible, it's much too late as the damage from the war on drugs has already been done.
Drugs weren’t a serious problem when Nixon and his camp invented this “war,” but because of their tactical strategies— which have been sustained for more than four decades— drugs have become a real problem in minority communities now.
It actually starts within the criminal justice system. By decriminalizing drugs and focusing on rehabilitation efforts to combat addiction, we can begin to try to reverse the harm caused by the calculated, destructive “war on drugs.”
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