Under the heading "We knew it all the time" comes a 22-year old quote published for the first time in a recent issue of Harper's magazine.
In the article, journalist Dan Baum, writing about legalizing drugs, recalled a 1994 conversation he had with John Ehrlichman, convicted Watergate co-conspirator and aide to Richard Nixon, which took place while Baum was researching what became his 1997 book on the subject.
Baum said he started to ask Ehrlichman "a series of earnest, wonky questions," but Ehrlichman waved him off and said, and this is a quote:
The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. 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.And so began the so-called "War on Drugs."
Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
In 1971, Nixon labeled drug use "Public Enemy No. 1," signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, and created the Drug Enforcement Administration. By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested for drugs every year, the majority of them - whoda thunk - African-American.
So across decades of failure, over the bodies of an untold number of wrecked and ruined lives, comes the message: The "war on drugs" was never about public health. It was never even about drugs. It was about destroying political opponents.
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