Nixon started the War on Drugs because he couldn't declare war on black people and hippies

Nixon aide/Watergate jailbird John Ehrlichman confessed to Dan Baum that Richard Nixon started the War on Drugs because "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."

Baum uses the quote to kick off a long, provocative, informative piece about how to end the war on drugs (ideally, he says, by legalizing everything and selling it in state-run dope stores that could adjust prices dynamically to make it too cheap to sustain a black market, but expensive enough to deter overindulgence), and what realpolitik obstacles stand in the way of a lasting peace in our time.

If it is now time to start thinking creatively about legalization, we'd be wise to remember that, like carefully laid military plans, detailed drug-liberalization strategies probably won't survive their first contact with reality. "People are thinking about the utopian endgame, but the transition will be unpredictable," says Sterling, of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Whatever system of regulation gets set up, there will be people who exploit the edges. But that's true for speeding, for alcohol, for guns." Without a state-run monopoly, there will be more than one type of legal, regulated drug market, he says, and the markets won't solve every conceivable problem. "Nobody thinks our alcohol system is a complete failure because there are after-hours sales, or because people occasionally buy alcohol for minors." Legalizing, and then regulating, drug markets will likely be messy, at least in the short term. Still, in a technocratic, capitalist, and fundamentally free society like the United States, education, counseling, treatment, distribution, regulation, pricing, and taxation all seem to better fit our national skill set than the suppression of immense black markets and the violence and corruption that come with it.

Legalize It All
[Dan Baum/Harpers]

(Image: Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon. On December 21, 1970, at his own request, Presley met then-President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office of The White House. Elvis is on the right. Waggishly, this picture is said to be 'of the two greatest recording artists of the 20th century'. The Nixon Library & Birthplace sells a number of souvenir items with this photo and the caption, "The President & the King."