“If we cannot destroy the drug menace in America, then it will surely destroy us,” President Richard Nixon told Congress in a special message on June 17, 1971, that generally is credited as the day the “war on drugs” began. Actually, Nixon didn’t use the term “war on drugs” in the address. He used it later. And while Nixon talked tough about going after drug traffickers, he emphasized that rehabilitation would be a priority as he dedicated the lion’s share – $105 million of $155 million in new anti-drug funding – “solely for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug-addicted individuals.”
Some 40 years later, there are only losers in the drug war. Drug use is up; 118 million Americans have used illegal drugs, and the cost of prosecuting the drug war and offenders continues to mount.
On Friday, various antidrug war groups will be holding vigils in Washington, San Francisco and other cities to remember the drug war’s many victims.
“The war you plan is not necessarily the war you end up fighting,” noted Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. Sterling should know. As a congressional aide, he helped write the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which featured draconian federal mandatory minimum sentences.