During the first year of his presidency, Richard M. Nixon implemented a controversial domestic policy called the War on Drugs. Facing a rising wave of heroin use, primarily driven by returning Vietnam War veterans, Nixon’s policy was ostensibly implemented as a way to reduce the crime rate and make the United States safer.
The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 was enacted and developed the foundation for drug regulation by consolidating previous laws around drug production, distribution, and usage.
While Nixon presented his program to combat the rising tide of drug use, in reality, he used this program as a way to wage war against the rising tide of liberal politics sweeping the nation by labeling both African Americans and left-wing activists as drug users and hardened criminals as a way to discredit them.
The Civil Rights Movement championed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. forced Americans to come to a reckoning between the de jure equality of American Americans in American society with the de facto inequality through segregation. This movement, combined with the overwhelming disdain Americans held for America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, a microcosm of America’s greater foreign policy, caused the Republican presidents to begin to lose grip of their political power. In order to stem this liberal wave, Nixon sought to brand his opponents as drug users and criminals under his regulation in order to regain political power.
John Ehrlichman, former domestic policy chief for Nixon, stated,
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. 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.