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THE CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF THE WAR ON DRUGS

Gabriel Granata
CHA 3U1
Friday, January 13th, 2017
The War on Drugs, started at the end of alcohol prohibition, but brought into light by

the Nixon administration in the late sixties and into the early seventies, has affected both the

American government and their policies, as well as has influenced a lot of American culture

leading into the 21st century. The past of the United States is one that has hit many bumps in the

road and came to a lot of crossroads. The rich history, especially during the 19th century when the

Civil War took place, is filled with racism. When the roaring twenties decade occurred, many

people were against the outlawing of marijuana. When the government needed something else to

outlaw, it was agreed upon by two men that it would be the cannabis plant. The real reasons for

this were filled with racism and prejudice against people who the government knew Americans

would be afraid of. Americans could get behind it, and because of this, created an almost eighty-

year ban on a plant, filled with money spent on prison time as well as law enforcement. The

culture behind marijuana slowly evolved from being feared into something that was embraced by

a lot of societies, and stoner culture was created. This prohibition was fuelled by racism during

the early 20th century and has led to a war, costing Americans more money and resources than

necessary, leading to a culture that has spent eighty years developing into something it was never

expected to become.

When the history of the United States is viewed, people notice patterns of racism present

until the current day. Although this nation was built on the idea of freedom when the first

Americans travelled across the Atlantic, it has had its moments of injustice, segregation, and

racism. The early and late 19th centuries were filled with racial cases & events like the beginning

of indentured servants, leading to a country splitting into two parts because they couldnt agree

on whether people of a different colour were in fact, considered people. As we approach the end

of the 19th century, racism seems to slow down due to new laws being passed. Despite this,
people still revert to their old ways. As the early 20th century approaches, people begin to take a

new stance on alcohol. However, as that happens and alcohol is made illegal with the prohibition

period, crime & protest rates skyrocket. That is until the people get what they want, and

everything is back to normal, but only for a few years. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the

government was running out of things to make illegal. A new department, the Department of

Prohibition was formed, and Harry Anslinger was put in charge.1 Nearing the end of alcohol

prohibition, however, changes to the laws needed to be made, and thats what was done.

When neighbourhoods began to be controlled by gangs and mobs were running cities, with

controlled crime at an all time high, the government finally decided to change the legislature

back to what it was, and legalized alcohol. Anslinger was afraid and needed something else to

bring fear back to the population and help his department continue to run. Anslinger also knew

that people were racist. He capitalized and used the one thing he knew would convince people to

get behind him: fear. Anslingers argument was that marijuana made people crazy. He used the

case of Victor Llcata2, who went on an axe rampage due to being under the influence of

marijuana. However, it was proven later by many scientists that Llcata had never even tried

marijuana. Anslinger wrote to thirty scientists asking if he should go through with his campaign

to criminalize marijuana due to health issues. However, 29 wrote back and said no, he was being

ridiculous.3 So why did that one scientists claim create the backbone to an almost 80-year

prohibition?

1 Hari, Johann, Why Is Marijuana Banned? The Real Reasons are Worse than you
Think, The Influence, Jan 8th, http://theinfluence.org/why-is-marijuana-banned-the-
real-reasons-are-worse-than-you-think/

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.
Anslingers main campaign was against those in minorities. Using the fuel of a racist

nation in the past, with memories and habits still fresh in the minds of Americans, Anslinger

created a campaign to spark a war against a plant. His main argument was about what type of

people smoked marijuana. At a time of post-war America, people began to be worried about

minorities. African Americans continued to be treated as less than a person even after the passing

of laws which proved them to be human beings. People were still afraid of them, as well as the

minority group of Mexicans. People often associated the use of marijuana with those who were

Mexican, African American, or other minorities. Anslinger claimed that the reason these

minorities were so feared and acted the way the acted was because they were under the influence

of the drug. Harry Anslinger said himself, Who smokes marijuana? Mexicans smoke

marijuana. These empty claims, with scientific evidence that proved otherwise, were still

believed by people because it was the only thing they could do in the face of fear. One would

think that after scientists debunked Harry Anslingers claims the legislature would be changed

but, that was not that case. One man sparked almost a century of political arguments, protests,

and unnecessary crime because he did not want to lose his new government job and needed a

way to induce new fears into the minds of a population.

Over the next thirty years, people embraced these new laws and the old ways were soon

forgotten. It caused for a new culture created which sparked the official beginning of the war on

drugs. The sixties were a time of teenage rebellion, wanting to prove their independence to their

parents. This was the beginning of a new culture of hippies, peace keepers, and teenage angst. A

culture created after World War II centered around the use of drugs like marijuana and LSD.4

Teenagers from around the country began to develop new opinions on how the world worked at

4 Skitoff, Harvard, The Sixities, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History,
Jan 7th, https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/sixties/essays/sixties
the time and what they thought was wrong. It was a time for change around the country with new

ideas showing up everywhere, being expressed through protests, radio shows, and of course,

music. Half of the US population at the time was under the age of thirty. The other half which

included a lot of parents of teenagers, were greatly against this newfound counterculture5 that

teenagers were experiencing. However, with the newfound personalities of a lot of young adults,

people were bound to eventually bring the old habits of a nation back. Towards the end of the

decade, things began to change. The biggest change happened in 1968, with the election of

President Richard Nixon. When Nixon was elected, he was aged 56. He lived through the

prohibition of alcohol and was old enough to remember the start of the prohibition of marijuana.

Nixons election as the 37th president of the United States called for change throughout the

country. The past decade of rock and roll concerts filled with teenage rebels and anti-war hippies

who wanted peace were soon to be over as the official spark of war happened, the War on

Drugs.6

In 1971 Nixon launched his plan. He announced to the public that the greatest enemy of

the United States was the use of drugs and the culture surrounding it. Nixon, who in his

campaign had originally said he had a plan to end the war in Vietnam, in fact had a slightly

different plan in mind. His greatest allies were his cabinet and his greatest enemies were

minorities and those who were anti-war. However, a president cannot get up and tell people who

they should like and who they should despise, so Nixon found ways around it to indirectly affect

these groups of people. A quote from Nixons aid, John Ehlrichman, has him explaining why

5 Skitoff, Harvard, The Sixities, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History,
Jan 7th, https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/sixties/essays/sixties

6 Baum, Dan, Legalize It All, Harpers Magazine, Jan 10th,


http://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/
exactly the Nixon administration decided to declare a war on drugs. Dan Baum, a reporter for

Harpers magazine, asked him the question of what the politics of drug prohibition are and were

at the time. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two

enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what Im saying? We knew we

couldnt 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., was his response.7 The government knew it was not

possible to make it illegal to have an opinion or to hate a group of people. It would be considered

unconstitutional and would have major repercussions on the career of a president. Instead, Nixon

and his aids found a way to fuel his support by misinforming an entire population.

By convincing a country that the biggest problem in the US was drugs, and directing their

attention away from what the real problems were, the populations views had changed

significantly. No longer were people against the war that Nixon tried to keep in Vietnam, instead

people turned to their old instincts of being afraid and trusting a government with no proof. Even

after scientists advised that Nixon decriminalize the use of marijuana8, he continued to use it as a

fuel towards his ideas and policies, using the momentum and support of racism that still exists

today. Even after Nixon resigned from his presidency, people continued to believe what he had

said and the War on Drugs continued until the 21st century. These 40 years between the present

7 Baum, Dan, Legalize It All, Harpers Magazine, Jan 10th,


http://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

8 A Brief History of the War on Drugs, Drug Policy, Jan 9th,


http://www.drugpolicy.org/facts/new-solutions-drug-policy/brief-history-drug-war-0
and the past have caused more trouble for the US than it has done good, and continues to show

racist undertones when it comes to the law enforcing different drugs, showing that the racism

that started the prohibition of marijuana is still there.

Throughout the years after the War on Drugs was declared saw crime rates skyrocket

and the United States change forever. More people were being arrested for the possession of a

controlled substance, and it was not taken lightly by law enforcement.9 In the United States,

federal, state, and municipal governments have wasted approximately 50 million dollars a year

on trying to keep America drug free. Most of this money is spent on trying to arrest people for

one time offenses and keeping these felons in prison. As an effect of these crimes committed,

people were denied healthcare, education, and other human necessities because of a

misdemeanor. Neighbourhoods began to become unsafe as ghettos started to pop up in places

that were once safe for families to roam unharmed. Families were broken up because people

were arrested for having less than a gram of marijuana in their back pocket. Sent to prison, these

felons would be forced to remain imprisoned until either making bail or serving time. Even after

someone were to serve time for drug possession, their lives were broken apart due to

unemployment and being cut off from health care.10

While in recent years the crime rates have begun to lower again, it still does not change

the racist aspects found. The war on drugs was one built almost a century ago on the foundation

of racial injustice which is still found in todays society. In 2010, a study was done comparing

9 Crime, Arrests, and US Law Enforcement, Drug War Facts, Jan 8th,
http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Crime#sthash.9YO0Qz8k.dpbs

10 Newman, Tony, Connecting the Dots: 10 Disastrous Consequences of the War on


Drugs, Huffington Post, Jan 9th, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tony-newman/drug-
war-consequences_b_2404347.html
the treatment of minorities compared to white people when dealing with a police officer finding

they have possession of a controlled substance. After almost 250 years one would think America

has decided to attempt to do away with racism in their culture, especially in those put in a

position of power. However, as shown by the study, African Americans are nearly four times as

likely to get arrested for possession of marijuana.11 Many police officers have begun to enforce

the stop and frisk rule, causing more African Americans to be searched just because they look

more suspicious. This is unconstitutional and has led to seizing of property or searching of

homes. It denies people their rights as defined in the Constitution, and has led to many problems

in the United States. We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted

taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner, said Ezekiel Edwards,

the director of the A.C.L.U.s Criminal Law Reform Project and the lead author of the report.12

Laws are being enforced in a way that hasnt changed from the reason marijuana prohibition or

the official War on Drugs began in the first place.

By examining the causes of the War on Drugs from the very beginning of marijuana

prohibition in the early 1930s, people see a century long effort begun by an attempt to make

money for the government. Racism fuelled the movement started by Harry Anslinger and

projected it towards the late 1960s, a time when culture was continually changing. To keep away

from the times, President Richard Nixon enforced new drug laws to keep America drug free.

Despite advice from scientists and other officials, Nixon continued his path to start a war on

people, disguised as a war against a plant. Communities were disrupted as people begun to be

11 Urbina, Ian, Blacks are Singled out for Marijuana Arrests, Federal Data Suggests,
New York Times, Jan 10th, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/us/marijuana-arrests-
four-times-as-likely-for-blacks.html

12 Ibid.
arrested, and families were broken up with no healthcare provided. The war on drugs was a way

to eliminate the possibility of an administration being opposed and a countrys culture being

changed. Towards the present day, people in positions of power have continued to enforce

outdated laws to beat up on minorities and their communities. The War on Drugs was sparked by

a countrys long history of racism, and continued to use that racial injustice to fuel its almost

eighty year run as a disguise to a war on people.


Bibliography

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Smith, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. "Legalize It All." Harper's Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan.

2017.

Influence, The. "Why Is Marijuana Banned? The Real Reasons Are Worse Than You Think." The

Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2017.

Newman, Tony. "Connecting the Dots: 10 Disastrous Consequences of the Drug War." The Huffington

Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2017.

"The Sixties." The Sixties | The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan.

2017.

Urbina, Ian. "Blacks Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests, Federal Data Suggests." The New York

Times. The New York Times, 03 June 2013. Web. 12 Jan. 2017.

"Why Is Marijuana Banned? The Real Reasons Are Worse Than You Think." TheInfluence. N.p., 21

Dec. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2017.

Wing, Nick. "Marijuana Prohibition Was Racist From The Start. Not Much Has Changed." The

Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2017.