The Drug Enforcement Administration’s recent Throwback Thursday (TBT) post on Twitter, now known as X, happened to fall on the first day of Black History Month. But that did not stop the agency from proudly touting its failed war on drugs, which a former presidential advisor later revealed to be a targeted attack on the antiwar left and Black community.
The DEA’s TBT post features a photo of then-President Richard Nixon, who brought upon the drug war, receiving a “certificate of special honor” from the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers’ Association “in recognition of the outstanding loyalty and contribution to support narcotic law enforcement.”
Marijuana Moment shared comments from various cannabis advocates blasting the DEA’s post as offensive and tone-deaf.
“This is the agency that we are supposed to trust to objectively decide cannabis’ final schedule? Posting drug war propaganda to kick off the first day of Black History Month?” wrote Kalika Castille, president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association.
“Nixon signed the fear- and stigma-based Controlled Substance Act in 1970, declared the disastrous ‘war on drugs’ in 1971, and ignored calls to decriminalize marijuana in 1972. The DEA’s history leaves all that out,” tweeted the Drug Policy Alliance, referring to the DEA’s five decades and over $1 trillion spent on enforcing the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies drugs and sets criminal penalties. Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug along with heroin, LSD, meth, ecstasy and peyote.
The War On Drugs & John Ehrlichman: Villify Black People And Antiwar Left
In 2016, writer Dan Baum began Harper’s Magazine cover story, “Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs,” with quotes from a 1994 interview he’d done with Nixon’s top adviser John Ehrlichman. During the interview, Baum asked how the U.S. entangled itself in a drug prohibition policy that “yielded so much misery and so few good results.”
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” responded Ehrlichman, who died in 1999.
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or [Blacks], 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,” Ehrlichman added.
Enter The DEA
This policy put the U.S. on a punitive path led by the DEA that resulted in disproportionate drug arrests, mass incarceration and the decimation of countless communities across the country. The Sentencing Project points out that Black Americans are 3.8 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white Americans, even though they use drugs at similar rates.
“Before the War on Drugs, explicit discrimination — and for decades, overtly racist lynching — were the primary weapons in the subjugation of Black people. Then mass incarceration, the gradual progeny of a number of congressional bills, made it so much easier,” noted the Brennan Center for Justice.
Photo: Courtesy of DEA