Earth & Conservation

Nixon Advisor Admits War on Drugs Targeted African Americans and Anti-War Protestors

"Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

<p>Photo: Wikimedia Commons</p>

In 1971, President Nixon declared a war on drugs. His administration championed the initiative as a way of reducing crime and improving public health, but that claim has long been questioned and criticized. In fact, Nixon's top domestic policy advisor, has said the policy had a much more deliberate and sinister intent. In a recent Harper's piece advocating for the legalization of drugs, Dan Baum resurfaces a quote from John Ehrlichmann, who served in the Nixon administration until 1973, when he was forced to resign amid the Watergate scandal.

"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."

Watch More: How the War on Drugs Betrayed America

It's a shocking statement. Vox makes the case that it should be taken with a grain of salt, given Ehrlichmann may have wanted to exaggerate Nixon's intentions. Still, the war on drugs had major consequences on American society, hurting minority groups in particular. Even today, when some U.S. states are legalizing marijuana, African Americans are still disproportionately arrested. A new study published by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that black people were twice as likely to be arrested on marijuana-related charges in Washington and Colorado, where the drug has been legalized.