« America’s Biggest Drug Problem is its Drug Policy | Main | Annals of American Insanity »

January 05, 2013

Still Haunted by Nixon’s Ghost

In retrospect, there were several troublesome features of the Controlled Substances Act Richard Nixon and John Mitchell proposed as replacement for Harry Anslinger’s 1937 Marijuana Tax Act after it had been declared unconstitutional by the Warren Court in 1969.

Their new version, while more rhetorically coherent on the surface, was far more punitive. Its rhetoric also concealed a breath-taking expansion of what had always been a failing US policy of criminal drug prohibition, one originally based on devious transfer taxes that allowed untrained federal police to impose their medical judgment in areas that Medicine itself had not (and still hasn’t) defined objectively: the diagnosis and treatment of “addiction.”

Beyond that, the three Schedule one criteria devised by Mitchell for deciding which “substances” (drugs) to outlaw (“control”) were scientifically ludicrous; the first two- “dangerous” and “habit forming” were impossibly vague and the third- “of no recognized use in American Medical practice” ignored the fact that medical standards are constantly changing in response to new clinical and laboratory research.

Although the CSA's provisions were impossibly vague and imprecise by medical and scientific standards, they struck exactly the right political notes with the “silent majority” of the electorate Nixon was courting.

They had been horrified by the rebellious youthful behavior of post-war “baby boomers” who seemed hell-bent on rejecting the values their elders had fought to preserve in Word War Two and Korea by refusing to serve in Vietnam, living in communes, practicing free sex, taking illegal drugs like marijuana or the even more disturbing psychedelics advocated by Timothy Leary and others.

By 1968, the public wanted someone to solve the problems that had undone Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam while also presenting a strong response to the monolithic threat it perceived from both Russia and China. As for the hippie movement, the dramatic events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago reflected their attitude. The public found little fault with the brutal treatment of youthful demonstrators by Mayor Daley’s police. It excited little protest from the press and was quickly forgotten by most.

Ironically, a few months later, the youthful opponents of the war whose hero was Minnesota Senator “Clean Gene” McCarthy, may have played into Nixon’s hands by refusing to vote for another Minnesotan- Lyndon Johnson’s loyal Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Thus young anti-war activists may have tipped a very close election to a man who would compound the misery in Southeast Asia by bombing Laos and Cambodia and also push through a punitive drug policy that quickly escalated into the global “war on drugs” that continues to ruin lives long after its sponsors were disgraced out of high federal office by Watergate and have long since departed this mortal coil.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 5, 2013 10:29 PM