IF YOU WERE BORN AFTER THE 70’S, you may have never heard of John Ehrlichman. But during the Watergate scandals that eventually pushed Richard Nixon out of office, he was one of the biggest names in America. Ehrlichman was the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, and he was eventually sent to prison for 18 months on charges of conspiracy, perjury, and obstruction of justice.
After his conviction, Ehrlichman faded into obscurity. In 1994, he sat down for an interview with journalist Dan Baum, and made a startlingly blunt admission: the War on Drugs, which started under President Nixon, wasn’t a war on drugs at all. Baum recently reported on the interview in Harper’s Magazine:
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.”
On its face, the statement is shocking. But it’s really only in this framing that the drug war makes any sense, and it’s really only in this framing that the drug war has been remotely successful. Only in terms of marginalizing hippies and minority communities could the drug war be said to be succeeding.
This only goes to show that the drug war is a deeply cynical policy that has been a failure and a catastrophe on a truly monumental scale, and that it needs to come to an end immediately.
Read more at Harper’s.