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Nixon aide: ‘War on Drugs’ was tool to target ‘black people’


Tuesday, March 22, 2016, 4:48 PM

John D. Ehrlichman (l.), a top adviser to former President Richard Nixon (r.) is seen here in a 1972 photo. Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, admitted that the administration’s "War on Drugs" was actually a ploy to target left-wing protesters and African-Americans.ASSOCIATED PRESS

The infamous decades-long “War on Drugs” was actually a tool for the federal government to crack down on leftist protesters and “black people,” a former Nixon White House adviser admitted in an interview published Tuesday.

John Ehrlichman, who served as counsel to former President Richard Nixon, explained the unfortunate use of the controversial policy in a 1994 interview with writer Dan Baum, that he revisited in a new article for Harper’s published this week.

“You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said after Baum asked him about government policies regarding drugs.


“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,” Ehrlichman continued.

“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,” Ehrlichman, who served time in prison stemming from a conviction related to his role in the Watergate scandal, plainly told Baum.

The “War on Drugs,” a loose term defining the U.S. government’s law enforcement efforts to combat the use and trade of illegal drugs, was coined by the Nixon administration, which put into place several enormous anti-drug measures that defined the “war” for years.

In 1971, Nixon labeled drug abuse “public enemy number one” and passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act to put into place several new laws that cracked down on drug users. He also created the Drug Enforcement Agency.

For decades, civil rights activists have pointed to sentencing disparities that incarcerated crack cocaine users for far longer periods of time than powder cocaine users, as evidence that many of the policies developed by Nixon were unfair to African-American communities.

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