In 1993, I was researching my first book, Smoke and Mirrors, which is the tale, starting in the 1968 Nixon presidential campaign, of how drugs were turned into a political weapon. I tracked down as many people as I could who had been involved in drug policy in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and brand-new Clinton administrations. Among the first I found was John Ehrlichman, who was at the time doing minority recruitment for an engineering firm in Atlanta. He looked nothing then like he had when he’d been a principal Watergate villain in the early 1970s and an evil god in the bad-guy pantheon of my youth. By 1993, he was fat, and wore an Old Testament beard that extended far below the knot of his necktie. He impatiently waved away my earnest, wonky questions about drug policy.
“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the world-weary air 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 anti-war 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.”
November 24, 2015
What the War on Drugs was really about: "We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black"
Dan Baum writes about what the Drug War was really about: