On June 17, 1971 – nearly half a century ago! – President Richard Nixon held a press conference that announced a new war on drugs. It was to be a global war involving 9 agencies of government, nonstop guns and interdictions, courtrooms and jails, and many billions of dollars in spending.
Most of the energy was spent fighting a green plant, marijuana, that not only did not disappear; it has since become a staple of life for millions of people, both medicinally and recreationally.
The world can be free. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.There is no question that pot was Nixon’s main target. Tapes of talks with his advisers show that he rejected their nudges and ruled out legalization. He went much further. He intended to stamp it out.
“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…. 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?...
“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.”
In the election of November 2016, decriminalization of pot swept the country. More than half the states have now repudiated Nixon’s preposterous boasts. They moved on with life.
How did this happen? Expertise eventually overcame ignorance and bigotry. As a society, people finally gave up on using coercion. People refused to comply. There was activism at every level. Finally, the absurdities became too obvious. It took half a century, but finally rationality has prevailed (even if we have a long way to go; after all, hundreds of thousands are still in jail for pot-related crimes).
What does this tell us?
So often people despair, particularly when it comes to a political system they do not control.First, that this result coincides with the election of a man many people describe as an authoritarian. But voting to decriminalize a weed that has been demonized for half a century is not an authoritarian action. It is a libertarian one. This complicates the narrative of the left that somehow this election is a vote for a police-state crackdown on essential civil liberties.
Second, it demonstrates that the uses of government are limited. It cannot always get its way. It can apply thousands of laws, jails, and official thugs but when it is confronting behaviors that free people choose regardless, it cannot win over the long term. No amount of resources, powers, and determination can abolish the will to be free.
Third, history can change. So often people despair, particularly when it comes to a political system they do not control. They feel as if the cake is being baked by someone else, so their contribution does not matter. Nonsense.
Nothing is written. The world around us is made of yesterday’s ideas, just as the world of tomorrow is made of the ideas we have today. Crazy things happen all the time. This is one of them. Knowing this should buoy your spirits for what can happen in the future. The world can be free. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.