A former aide to Richard Nixon, John Ehrlichman, admitted that the war on drugs was meant to target opposing political groups of the Nixon administration: African American and liberal “hippies” opposed to war.
This insight reinforces the current analysis that the drug war has been a mechanism to control Americans through incarceration as a result of racially biased arrests and propaganda, rather than a fight against substance abuse.
Ehrlichman was a key player in the Watergate scandal and served 18 months in prison for his crimes. In 1994, Ehrlichman made comments to Dan Baum, a journalist writing a book about drug prohibition. While Baum didn’t use the comments in his book, he shared the remarks in an article for Harper’s April issue:
“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.”
John D. Ehrlichman (l.), a top adviser to former President Richard Nixon (r.) is seen here in a 1972 photo.
The failure of the war on drugs has been analyzed and discussed, but this is a major acknowledgement from a political insider that racism and political agendas were the driving force behind the early days of a drug war that has now lasted nearly 50 years. Would the lives of so many Americans have been ruined if people, including law enforcement officers, knew the real reason drug possession was considered such a crime?
Other political entities have a vested interest in maintaining strict drug legislation. Drug prohibition has been a source of income for the for-profit prison industry. In a 2014 annual report, Corrections Corporation of America stated:
“…any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”
Private prison corporations have contributed $25 million towards political lobbying efforts. The United States sends more of its citizens to prison than any other country in the world, a fact that was parroted by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when explaining her plan to end private prisons. When it was revealed that her campaign accepted contributions from the prison lobby, she was urged by supporters to cut ties with the industry.
photo credit: Associated Press