Racist Drug War?


Usually there’s a really good feeling when you have been proven right.  Unfortunately that feeling is not universal.  When being correct is regarding a policy that has caused so much destruction and has damaged society to the point that there is real question of its repair, being right all along doesn’t bring solace.  That said, it is important to highlight the fact that, though there are some laws that are both discriminatory in intent and in implementation, we must work hard to find and acknowledge those laws that are unjustly discriminatory in implementation, and to fix them.

In an article in Harper’s Magazine entitled Legalize It All: How to Win the War on Drugs, author Dan Baum writes a compelling piece on how to actually win the War on Drugs.  He writes about other societies that have decriminalized use and the public health benefits from doing so.  He explores the history of the War on Alcohol and the aftermath of the end of prohibition.

Most interesting is his story of the origins of the War on Drugs.  something we always innately knew, but never had any definite proof.   After Nixon commissioned a report on narcotics, he roundly rejected the findings, especially with regard cannabis.  Now, with the provable understanding that race and culture played a large role in the formation of the war on drugs, it would make sense why Nixon rejected the Shafer Commission Report, published forty-three years ago today.  Important especially to those communities of color and others that questioned Nixon’s administration, the Shafer Report called for a decriminalization of possession of “marihuana.”  John Ehrlichman, domestic policy advisor to President Nixon, and also co-conspirator in the Watergate Saga, which ultimately landed him in jail, discussed with Baum the inner discussions and thought process in waging the war on drugs.

In doing research for his book, Smoke and Mirrors, the War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure, Baum author asserts that Mr. Ehrlichman said to him the following:

“You want to know what this was really all about? 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 would be funny if it weren’t so devastating.  So, while it’s nice to be proven correct, there’s little joy because the Drug War is still causing too much havoc.  It’s time to rise up and end this war on our citizenry.