It did exactly what it was created to do.
It was recently reported that, although marijuana-related arrests have dropped overall, black people are still disproportionately targeted, even in states where weed has been legalized. In Washington state and Colorado, despite the fact that marijuana arrests have decreased by 90 percent and 60 percent, respectively, black people in 2014 were still twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana, in both states.
Today, a newly released quote from Nixon policy advisor, John Ehrlichman, reveals that the racially disparate consequences of the War on Drugs were not unintentional:
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, who served a year and a half in prison for his role in Nixon's Watergate scandal, goes on to say, of the Nixon administration:
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.
Nearly 50 years later, through discrimination in our criminal justice system, the drug war continues to produce profoundly unfair results for African-Americans and poor people. A national study from the ACLU, noted that, although rates of drug use are similar across racial lines, black users are more than three times more likely to be arrested for possession than their white counterparts.
The fact that there were ulterior motives in the government's faux crusade against drugs should not come as a surprise to anyone at this point. Even before the publishing of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, the impact of these policies, which have torn apart families and contributed to the destruction of the social infrastructure of black communities, were apparent to anyone willing to look at the facts.
Still, the transparency of Ehrlichman's statement is startling. The drug war has carried on America's legacy of oppressing black people, joining the ranks of segregation, Jim Crow, Reconstruction and slavery. Knowing what we know now, it gives the question "what will we do to end the War on Drugs?" even more urgency.