17 June 1971: USA declares ‘War on Drugs’

Richard Nixon © Getty Images
US president Richard Nixon declared drugs ‘public enemy number one’

The 1960s was a time of mind expansion, free love and tiresomely earnest discussions about the nature of the universe – all fuelled by drugs, man.

But The Man wasn’t having it. Less than two years after the Sixties finally shut up and went to bed, Richard Nixon declared – on this day in 1971 – that he was going to wage a ‘war on drugs’.

It wasn’t so much the hippies that got up Tricky Dicky’s nose, it was more the fact that GIs in Vietnam were getting hooked on extremely powerful narcotics, which wasn’t doing much for the war effort.

The sensible solution might have been to pull out of Vietnam and give some serious counselling to the traumatised young fighters. But when it comes to drugs, sensible rarely enters into the conversation.

Drugs were named ‘public enemy number one’, and the USA led the world in throwing money and legislation at the problem, seemingly having learned nothing from its disastrous experiment with prohibiting alcohol.

As with most wars, it wasn’t going to be cheap – either in monetary terms, or the number of lives lost or ruined. And with the global drugs trade worth £435bn a year, it was facing a formidable foe.

Since Nixon’s speech, the USA has spent over $1trn in fighting drugs. A quarter of the people in jail in the US – some half a million people – are there because of drugs offences, and $41bn a year is spent on enforcing America’s drugs laws, according to CNN.

But if currently illegal drugs were to be taxed on the same basis as tobacco and alcohol, it’s estimated that the country could raise nearly $50bn a year. Indeed, Colorado, which legalised the sale of cannabis for recreational use in January 2014, raked in over $91m in taxes and fees in the year to the end of April 2015. And in the year to April 2016, that figure has risen to over $142m.

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  • People are saying if they’re for or against Drug Prohibition at the Zero Aggression Project: https://bit.ly/1Bl3jaN

  • forumula_freddy

    We need a “war on prohibition” instead.

  • Ed Bland

    That was the “start”, where is the END ? ~ People just don’t get it ! I have not and will not get a damn thing out of this ! What I get does not exist in this realm ! I do this to HEAL EARTH !~ Things in “life” happen. It is the ACTIONS that we do because of those “things” that DEFINES us !
    ~ I “KNOW” exactly what it is that I am doing. WAKING THE “PEOPLE”! You “humans” keep sleeping !
    ~ I have been saying this for over 5 years, it will be 7 years since my wreck; . On 08-30-2008 I wrecked my motorbike, putting ribs into both lungs, killing me 3 times in life flight & putting me into an 87 day coma, waking with a 5.5 brain injury. That required me to go through rehabs relearning life. Once returning home, with next to no memory of my life, I had a friend ask me to get a medical card & try CANNABIS. I was amazed because not only did my memories start returning, but my THOUGHT PROCESS started working again. That made me research why. It is the blood that THC delivers with every HEAD RUSH
    Through “meditation” I have learned why I returned from the dead., It is to do HIS will & I do not try to tell others because they will not understand & want to call me a FAKE !