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.
— Former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman
So that’s cool. Never underestimate Nixon’s ability to take something shitty, and make it significantly shittier and racist. That quote was from this article about Nixon’s real motivation for starting the war on drugs. It should be noted that Ehrlichman’s children have questioned the veracity of the unearthed quotes because they never believed their father to be a racist. Nixon has, thus far, not had similar defenders. Maybe the larger question is why, after 40 years and millions of incarcerations of African-Americans, it took the word of a white guy to confirm, “Yeah, this shit seems pretty racist.”
But that’s not the point. Most people seem to understand the war on drugs has been wildly ineffective; that it disproportionately affects minority communities; it’s shockingly expensive; that at best, it can derail an occasional drug user’s life; and, at worst, it turns people with a legitimate disease into criminals and prevents them from getting help. If you consider it that way, it’s almost impressive how terrible a policy this is.
No, what I’d actually like to talk about is the myth behind “states rights”, and why the argument is inevitably bullshit. Basically any important law regarding individual rights (like the right to put something in one’s body if one chooses) has to be decided by the Federal government so we are not hypocritically inconsistent as a country. It’s why we can’t say “this state can hold people as chattel and this one doesn’t have to” or “women can control their bodies in this state, but not in this one” or “this couple can be married in this state, but not in this one.” In fact, that last example is probably the best indicator of the small influence that “state’s rights” should have on an issue. Each individual state does get to decide who can get married in their state, and then the federal government steps in to make all states recognize any marriage that is valid in one state valid in them all. It’s essentially saying, “Yeah, you can totally decide what we’re having for dinner. As long as what we’re having is pizza.”
And this isn’t to say I think states having varying laws and procedures is an inherently bad thing. If you want a stronger social support system, including larger public funds for, say, autism research and therapy, Minnesota might be a good fit for you. If you want to eliminate most taxes and shit your state down the drain, you might want to check out Kansas or Hell. States should be able to run the gamut in governing and laws. Right up until the point that those laws infringe on an individual’s civil rights.
All of which seems like it should be contradictory to my overall feeling that any and all drugs should be legalized and regulated, yes? If individual states are demanding the right to allow their citizens to consume as much weed as they’d like, I should be supporting state’s rights to regulate prohibited substances, yes? Only if we also Full Faith and Credit that shit. If your marriage license is valid when you move one state over, your pot prescription should be, too. If Louisiana wants to say you can’t buy weed or sex toys within the state borders, OK. But it shouldn’t be able to prevent that purchase online. And if a bank in Illinois won’t give a loan to a pot dispensary, that entrepreneur should know it’s because he had a shitty business plan, and not because everyone was worried about the Feds riding in. Each state should be able to decide the methods by which they will or will not allow for the sale and distribution of specific substances. Provided that they all know we’re having pizza. Luckily pizza is pretty big in this crowd.