It’s well known that the War on Drugs has been a convenient way to demonize already-marginalized groups—from opium crackdowns spawned by Chinese immigration to crack panic in the 1980s to the freak-out over opioid-using mothers today. But historically prohibition’s boosters have convinced themselves, or at least pretended, that drug prohibition is about saving the children and keeping the nation mighty and strong, or whatever.
Over at Jezebel, Julianne Escobedo Shepard highlights an insane segment reported in a Harper’s feature by Dan Baum about drug legalization: In a 1994 interview, former Nixon policy advisor John Ehrlichman outright admitted that the administration escalated the War on Drugs to destroy black communities and “hippies.”
At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “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.”
I must have looked shocked. Ehrlichman just shrugged. Then he looked at his watch, handed me a signed copy of his steamy spy novel, The Company, and led me to the door.
And just like that, millions of lives were wrecked.