In 1994, the disgraced former aide to Richard Nixon and a key figure in the Watergate scandal John Ehrlichman made a startling admission about the War on Drugs to writer and reporter Dan Baum —startling not so much for its content, which many had long suspected, but for the nonchalant attitude in which Ehrlichman delivered it.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” Ehrlichman said, according to Baum who recounted the conversation in a Harper’s Magazine report in 2016. “You understand what I’m saying? 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.”
And since the early 1970s, Nixon’s War on Drugs has been an economic boon to the prison-industrial complex while destroying countless lives both in the U.S. and abroad. As Baum noted back in 2016, whether it was Ronald Reagan and the crack epidemic, or Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill, the War on Drugs became political fodder for both parties, leaving behind them a trail of addiction, poverty, and death and that decimated African-American and other minority communities.
While almost 50 years later the U.S. still struggles to shift the balance of power back to the people, public perceptions have begun to change regarding America’s draconian drug laws. A plurality of citizens now favors marijuana legalization and today. In fact, 30 states have legalized cannabis either for recreational or medical purposes. What once was the purview of the black market is now the talk of Wall Street, as the billion cannabis industry shifts from back alleys to boardrooms.
All of us at PotNetwork take this moment to recognize the role that an open and free press played and continues to perform towards that shift in public perception. Over the past 50 years countless reporters have exercised their first amendment right of freedom of the press to bring the American public crucial stories about the War on Drugs, helping to change the conversation, and, in their own way, hopefully helping to save some lives.
In 1996 Gary Webb exposed the CIA’s role alongside Contra rebels in Nicaragua in the crack-cocaine epidemic. His “Dark Alliance” series for the San Jose Mercury News brought to light corruption deep within the government. Mark Bowden’s Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw, a 31-part series published in The Philadelphia Inquirer (and later turned into a book) detailed the atrocities befallen upon Colombia under Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. Reporter Sonia Nazario and photographer Clarence Williams of The Los Angeles Times followed the children of drug addicts for their series “Orphans of Addiction,” showing in heartbreaking detail the devastating effects substance use disorders have on families.
The list goes on.
Today, freedom of the press is under attack. And while politicians have tried to silence the press since the days of the Sedition Act, never before have our country’s leaders attempted to make the press an enemy of the people. Here at PotNetwork all of us consider ourselves extremely lucky to be able to do what we love every day. And while we may not cover the latest in international geopolitics or Wall Street mergers and acquisitions, we hope that, in our own little way, we’re able to contribute to the national conversation about cannabis.
Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican doesn’t matter, because without a free press we have an uninformed citizenry, and an uninformed citizenry relinquishes control to the political class. And this country, as should the world, belongs to the people.
We hope you’ll stand with PotNetwork, as PotNetwork stands with over 350 other news publications in supporting a #FreePress today and every day.
- Brandon A. Dorfman, Editor, PotNetwork News