In 1994, a former Nixon aide let the truth slip about the “War on Drugs.”
During the first week of 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department would rescind the Obama-era “Cole Memo.”
The Cole Memo simply stated that the Justice Department would respect the states’ rights enshrined in the 10th Amendment — at least regarding medical and recreational cannabis.
With that memo in place, a handful of states have been able to set up sensible regulations around medical and recreational cannabis. In those states, the Cole memo enabled doctors to recommend an alternative to opiates and other expensive and potentially addictive pharmaceutical treatments to tens of thousands of patients.
Rescinding the Cole Memo subverts the sovereignty of individual states and significantly interferes with those states’ economies — but to simply call Sessions a hypocrite for this action would be to miss two big points:
1. Despite Sessions’ folksy demeanor and his lip service to states’ rights and family values/conservativism, he’s simply an American fascist.
2. The “War on Drugs” was never about the drugs.
As I wrote in the Charleston Gazette-Mail article, “Who’s been bamboozled by ‘conservative’ Republicans,” this administration isn’t made up of William F. Buckley-type American conservatives.
This administration is made up of American fascists.
In 1944, then-Vice President Henry Wallace wrote in The New York Times about the “really dangerous American fascists,” writing:
“They use every opportunity to impugn democracy. ... They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”
Sessions is simply using executive powers to override state-level democracy, and he wants to be able to use federal agents to raid small businesses, many of which are family owned and operated.
For the last half-century, the failed “War on Drugs” has shown what results these policies will yield: People will still get rich from the drug trade.
But under these failed policies, the people benefiting most from Sessions’ policies will be private prison CEOs and stockholders, along with Mexican drug cartels.
Like the heyday of the American mafia in the 1920s, nothing makes gangsters richer than prohibition.
For the administration though, that’s all just gravy — because the “War on Drugs” was never about combating drug use in America.
It has always just been a way to consolidate political power and to break political opposition.
Don’t take it from me though, take it from John Ehrlichman, who was assistant to the president for domestic affairs under Richard Nixon.
In 1994, Ehrlichman bluntly told a journalist for Harper’s Magazine:
“You want to know what this was really all about? ... 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. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Like Nixon and Ehrlichman before, President Donald Trump and Sessions know they’re lying about the drugs.
Trump clearly didn’t see cannabis as a public health crisis on the scale of heroin when he said on the campaign trail, “I think it certainly has to be a state — I have not smoked it — it’s got to be a state decision.”
And there’s no doubt that Sessions is a hypocrite. He supports having federal agents rob individual Americans through civil asset forfeiture. He supports using federal powers to tell doctors how to treat their patients. He’s using federal powers to tell states how to run their economies and individuals how to run their lives.
All of that without a single vote in Congress.
But the problem isn’t that Trump is a liar and Sessions is a hypocrite. The problem is that they’re using the power of the market combined with the power of the state to break their political opposition.
Like Nixon before, they could use these powers to target specific groups like Black Lives Matter. Or to target medical and recreational dispensaries that may donate to Democrats more often than Republicans. Or to more generally target that original bogeyman of “the pot-smoking left.”
As Sessions takes federal tax dollars and funnels them toward destroying budding local economies and cracking down on states’ rights, all the while telling local police departments to rob more innocent Americans through civil asset forfeiture, just remember, for a half-century, it’s never been about the drugs. It’s always been about consolidating political power.