50 years ago today, former US President Richard Nixon declared drugs and people who use them “public enemy number one.” Since then, the global War on Drugs has taken the lives of thousands and ruined the lives of millions through criminalization, incarceration, and making drug use dangerous under prohibition.
The War on Drugs was racially motivated from the very beginning. John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s aide said it himself:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? 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. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”
50 years later, in the United States, the War on Drugs has devastated Black and brown communities, led to rampant police violence, fed our disturbing carceral system, and targeted politically active young people. It has been exported globally from the United States, leading to human rights violations around the world and a bleak reality and poor life outcomes for people who use drugs everywhere. At 50, it’s long past the time the War on Drugs retired.
In an exciting development, today, on the 50th anniversary of the War on Drugs, Connecticut passed cannabis legalization through its house and Senate, in an effort that was spearheaded by our Executive Director, Jason Ortiz, and supported by our UConn Hartford chapter. Under the new law, no one under the age of 18 will be arrested for cannabis possession ever again. Ortiz was arrested for cannabis possession as a youth, jeopardizing his ability to attend college. Today as SSDP Executive Director he helped end the laws that impacted him as a youth, creating a more sensible world for young people in CT.
As we remain committed to efforts in the United States, we are expanding our support for our international chapters making strides in drug policy reform around the world. Specifically, we are organizing a coalition to defund the aerial crop eradication of plant medicines in Colombia, empowering youth leaders in Africa, and our international office in Vienna mobilized youth to speak at the United Nations Commission on Narcotics and Drugs. The War on Drugs was a war born in the United States but has impacted communities globally, and SSDP will continue the fight until all of our communities are treated with fairness, dignity and compassion.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is committed to decriminalizing all drugs. To further our mission we’re developing a model resolution and ordinance with stakeholders to get local decrim right. We are continuing to push for the MORE Act in the United States Congress and supporting congressional efforts to decriminalize all drugs, finally ending the war on our communities.
This work is not possible without the generosity of our supporters like you. Our movement of students and young people depends on the resources, training, and guidance we provide them to enact their vision of a world where drug policy is rooted in public health, compassion, human rights, and civil liberties. Young people and students have been at the forefront of every movement for justice in the last 100 years and we can’t end the War on Drugs without supporting them in every step.