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The origins and effects of the War on Drugs

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people … 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. … Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

This admission by former president Nixon’s domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman, in a 1994 interview five years before his death. For him, it may have been a confession, a final clearing of the conscience of a hardcore political strategist. For many Americans, the March 2015 release of the comment was confirmation of a long-suspected subterfuge: The War on Drugs and subsequent policies were conjured as a red herring to contain outspoken minority populations.

Taking the statement to its logical conclusion, a new cloud of questions begin to take shape under the umbrella of drug addiction and demographics, as overdose death rates continue to rain on the country.

Did the War on Drugs link minority poor to heroin?

Though the revelation from the Nixon administration was damning, and the fabricated stigma of blacks being consumed by drugs did permeate the public, the strategy wasn’t a reality until decades later. Nixon’s administration instigated excessively harsh and long sentences for drug distribution and possession, but statistically this did little to keep the entire black population “contained.”

Not until the Reagan administration in the 1980s did America see incarceration for drug-related crimes blow through prison roofs. It’s argued Nixon’s White House lobbed the strategy and Reagan’s slam-dunked the stigma, burying impoverished minorities in stereotype and roiling in substance dependency.

Today, African-Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population but nearly 40 percent of the prison population. The American Civil Liberties Union published a report detailing a decade of FBI marijuana arrests. In 2010, a person was arrested for a marijuana-related charge every 41 seconds. Further, 2001 through 2010 tolled 8.2 million marijuana arrests, with 88 percent for possession.

The political cycle of marijuana

Insofar as the hippies being brought down by marijuana, the left-wing political agitators aged, started families and sired generation X’s equally outspoken white middle-class, college-educated liberals. The Dave Matthews Band campus cult followers comprise a new demographic: college educated, happy rebels who smoke pot for leisure like their parents but also freely use other drugs in epidemic proportions.

Statistically the progressive, problem, flower children weren’t silenced as a whole, with only small percentages serving outrageous sentences for marijuana-related charges. While the government of the late 1960s reportedly used marijuana as a tool to criminalize hippies, political analysts now observe the present presidential campaign also uses marijuana as a tool. This time however, dangling legalization over the nation as a carrot to draw out the younger, millennial vote and one-issue straggler voters.

Will the War on Drugs come to a close?

According to a 2015 report, nearly 14.5 million Americans are surviving cancer with the aid of medicinal marijuana. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies tally 116 million people suffer from chronic pain. Marijuana used for pain management has emerged as a conceivable medical tool few would dare oppose for the dying and diseased.

The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids has accounted for a more than a 300 percent increase in deaths by overdose in the last 15 years, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.

Politicians and medical professionals are starting to agree it’s hard to trudge on with a war when the soldiers are dying by their own swords. It would seem the War on Drugs is at a stalemate.

Addiction and subsequent overdose found their mark on minorities; they are now firing at will on the white lower, middle and upper-class communities.

Dana Connolly, a senior staff writer at Sovereign Health Group who holds a Ph.D. in clinical research and theory development, notes the concept of the government keeping people down is more historically accurate than most are willing to accept.

“If you look at drugs scientifically speaking, the chemicals, the dangerous and fatal effects to the body and the epidemic proportions, it’s chemical warfare. The effects of mass destruction by drug weapons have been more widespread and have taken a greater toll on humanity than Agent Orange or the nuclear attacks or any other weapon of mass destruction used to date. Plus, they vilify, nullify and asset-strip the victims, taking away power from those who oppose hegemonies.”

The Sovereign Health Group is clear on one truth: Addiction is a brain disease and must be addressed cognitively and physically. Call our 24/7 helpline for details.

Written by Kristin Currin-Sheehan, with contributions from Darren Fraser and Dana Connolly

About the authors

Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting.

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec.

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. 

For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the authors at  

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