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Hemp History: Cannabis and the Long Battle with Racism - pt. 2

Posted by Thom Dyer on

History of the War on Drugs

Richard Nixon's head in a jar from Futurama.

Richard Nixon, once titleholder for worst president in American history, decided to declare recreational drug use as “public enemy number one”. To him, there was no greater threat to the American people.

Richard Nixon, former chief of the greatest scandal in American history, absolutely despised drugs. He firmly believed cannabis consumption was destroying America's foundation, this was due to a large increase during the raging 60's. 

So on July 17th of 1971, Richard Nixon asked congress for $85 million to help fight this “national emergency”; thus starting the "War on Drugs".

A recent economic report states the total cost of this "national emergency" is now estimated at $1 trillion dollars, or Jeff Bezos' net-worth post Covid-19.


Nixon's Stance On Cannabis

By 1972, The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the Shafer Report, stated that criminal punishment for private use and possession of cannabis should be eradicated.  

Obviously, Tricky Dick ignored the groundbreaking findings in the and  Shafer Report and in turn created the Drug Enforcement Agency or DEA.


American Justice Initiative With Cannabis



The logo for the Equal Justice Initiative in red letters.


According to the Equal Justice Initiative during the 1970’s the number for people in prison or jail increased from around 300,000 to 2.3 million. Half of those incarcerated were sentenced due to a drug offense.

What is even more shocking is that of those 2.3 million, 2/3rd were people of color; despite the fact drug usage was said to be equal between both white and black individuals. 

Nixon’s administration told the American people they were launching a war on drugs, an attack on all fronts to help clean the streets and create a safer community. He used “drugs” as a veil to cover his outrageous war’s  true target: being black.

“You want to know what this was really all about. 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 Ehrlichman, a former Nixon aide and all-around nice guy according to his family


One of the greatest examples of how the government can corrupt our nation's media, which then misinforms the public's viewpoints shifting their beliefs towards dangerous conclusions. 



Richard Nixon pointing during a press conference saying his famous phrase.


The Real Reaganomics 

Ronald Reagan seemed pleased with the path Nixon was taking and decided to enhance "The War on Drugs". In fact, he felt as though things were not tough enough. 

In a speech he gave shortly after being elected Reagan said, "We're taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts; we're running up a battle flag". 

All of this was in despite of the true feelings of his constituents. In 1985 a poll was taken to see what the new "public enemy number one" was. 2-6% of these Americans viewed drug abuse as our nation's number one issue. 


Ronald Reagan wearing a cowboy hat with a broken hand.


By 1989 that percentage skyrocketed to 64% – this is said to be "one of the most intense fixations by the American public on any issue in polling history".

This did not stop him from creating the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which provided $1.7 billion to help fight America's brutal war with drugs. 

When the law was set in place it created mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses. These penalties, unsurprisingly, increased racial disparity within the prison population, a problem we are still facing today. 


Pie chart showing the number of people locked up in the United States


D.A.R.E.'s Legacy With Cannabis

Nancy Reagan took the "The War on Drugs" concept and formed it into a program that would be implemented in classrooms across the nation: D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).

We all can remember this Boy-Scout-Campfire classic program and how laughable their warning videos were even as children. The iconic analogy that your brain is like a delicious egg frying on skillet

This program was founded by ex LAPD chief Daryl Gateson on the good principles of "taking casual drug users out back and having them shot". Harsh, but fair. 


A lion wearing a D.A.R.E. shirt next to an American flag.


Now, I am aware that D.A.R.E does some good for our children. Heroin, crack, and cocaine addictions are troublesome, no laughing matter, and need to be avoided before they start. 

However, it is the continual use of grouping cannabis into these other Schedule One drugs that only creates more harm than good. We now understand how and why cannabis was place into this category in the first place.

Smoking cannabis does not turn one into a crackhead or a violent criminal. It is not a drug which rots the minds. Scientific evidence has very much proven the opposite. 

We should be able to see through absurdity of these false claims now. We as a society need to remove this label that is blocking us from a healthier world.

Racist government officials did everything in their power to curse the cannabis name. Until this misinformation changes, we will continue to view cannabis negatively all because of racial practices of the past. 

Richard Nixon stepping on a helicopter


Waxman, Olivia B. “The Link Between U.S. Marijuana Law and Mexican Immigration.” Time, Time, 20 Apr. 2019, time.com/5572691/420-marijuana-mexican-immigration/.


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