As Bernie Sanders Calls for Marijuana De-Scheduling, Richard Nixon Reminds Us Why Pot Tops Illegal Drugs List

The architect of America’s War on Drugs, left, with Elvis Presley, the pop singer/movie star/drug abuser who asked to be President Richard Nixon’s special drug agent.

By Ed Murrieta

Richard Nixon was socially awkward and paranoid. His ramblings were at times unintelligible. He indulged in cottage cheese and ketchup.

Total stoner, right?

The 37th president of the United States was anything but. In fact, Nixon’s disdain for drugs and drug users — based wholly on Nixon’s personal and racial prejudices — launched the nation into an unwinnable conflict that’s been carried out by all seven subsequent presidents: America’s War on Drugs, now on the brink of its 45th year.

Nixon’s anti-drug legacy slunk from his disgraced dungheap this week when one of the Democrats running for president called for marijuana to be completely removed from the schedule of controlled substances regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, an agency Nixon authorized.

“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use,” Bernie Sanders said Wednesday. “I will not be a president of a country that has more people in jail than any other country.”

Sanders’ call for de-scheduling came one day after the anniversary of Congress passing the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, aka the Controlled Substances Act, which, among other things, categorizes controlled substances in five elaborate schedules based on their medicinal use and potential for addiction.

Marijuana is on Schedule 1, the highest level, along with heroin, opium and LSD, right above cocaine.

As such, federal regulations perpetuate America’s drug war, prevent research and unnecessarily overwhelm courts and jails.

Marijuana’s Schedule 1 tenure was supposed to be temporary. The Controlled Subtances Act created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, aka the Shafer Commission. Marijuana was placed on Schedule 1 pending the Shafer Commission’s findings.

Using the preferred spelling of the day, the Shafer Commission concluded in 1972: “Marihuana’s relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it.”

Nixon ignored the report.

Marijuana remains on Schedule 1.

Taking office in 1969 as American military police in Vietnam were arresting more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers per week for marijuana possession, Nixon launched drug raids across the United States. Eight months into his only full term, Nixon effectively shut down the U.S.-Mexico border for two weeks by subjecting every vehicle entering the United States to intensive inspection. Remarkably, Operation Intercept uncovered no major shipments of marijuana.

Ironically, Nixon’s administration repealed the federal 2–10-year mandatory minimum sentences for possession of marijuana and started federal demand reduction programs and drug-treatment programs.

In a major speech on June 17, 1971, Nixon promised to defeat “public enemy number one in the United States.”

By that time, young, white, middle-class Americans embraced pot. Against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, pot was emblematic of the era’s social rebellion and political unrest.

Nixon coined the phrase, “War on Drugs.”

“If we cannot destroy the drug menace, ” Nixon said, “then it will destroy us.”

Here’s a look and a listen into the destructive thinking of Richard Nixon, the mullah of America’s marijuana mujahedeen, as gleaned from Nixon’s own Oval Office recordings.

RICHARD NIXON: “Now, this is one thing I want. I want a Goddamn strong statement on marijuana. Can I get that out of this sonofabitching, uh, Domestic Council?”


RICHARD NIXON: “I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them. I see another thing in the news summary this morning about it. You know it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists, you know, there’s so many, all the greatest psychiatrists are Jewish. By God we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss, I want to find a way of putting more on that. More [ unintelligible ] work with somebody else with this.”

HR ‘BOB’ HALDEMAN: “Mm hmm, yep.”

RICHARD NIXON: “I want to hit it, against legalizing and all that sort of

RICHARD NIXON: “Why in the name of God do these people take this stuff?”

JOHN EHRLICHMAN: “For the same reason they drink. It’s a, they’re bored, it’s
a, it’s a diversion.”

RICHARD NIXON: “Drinking is a different thing in a sense. Uh, Linkletter’s point I think is well taken, he says, ‘A person may drink to have a good time’ -”


JOHN EHRLICHMAN: “– but a person does not drink simply for the purpose of getting high. You take drugs for the purpose of getting high.”


RICHARD NIXON: “There is a difference.”

RICHARD NIXON: “Well, let me tell you one thing that just happened here because it probably wasn’t, I’m sure it wasn’t in the press here, I had a press conference in California which was not televised, but, I was asked about marijuana because a study is being made by a, group, [unintelligible] the government. Now, my position is flat-out on that. I am against legalizing marijuana. Now I’m against legalizing marijuana because, I know all the arguments about, well, marijuana is no worse than whiskey, or etc. etc. etc. But the point is, once you cross that line, from the straight society to the drug society — marijuana, then speed, then it’s LSD, then it’s heroin, etc. then you’re done. But the main point is — well, well we conduct, well this commission will come up with a number of recommendations perhaps with regard to, [unintelligible] the penalties more, because [unintelligible] too far in this respect. As far as legalizing them is concerned, I think we’ve got to take a strong stand, one way or the other, and, uh.”


RICHARD NIXON: “Against legalizing. That’s the position that I take. Because I think if we legalized it, take the, then, then, your high school and elementary kid, well why not? It [unintelligible].”

“You see, homosexuality, dope, immorality in general. These are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff, they’re trying to destroy us.”

“At least with liquor I don’t lose motivation.”

Louis Armstrong, left, and Richard Nixon in the 1950s.

Root of Nixon’s pot antipathy?

Different versions of the same story each make the point: Richard Nixon carried Louis Armstrong’s pot past U.S. Customs in the 1950s. As the stories go, the Vice President chatted with the jazz great at a New York airport. Armstrong complained either of the bother of going through Customs or the weight of his trumpet. In both versions, Nixon carries Armstrong’s luggage containing 3 pounds of marijuana through Customs unquestioned. Armstrong died three weeks after Nixon declared his War on Drugs. Was young Tricky Dick duped into smuggling pot? Could this be the root of Nixon’s pot antipathy?

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