The Price of Prohibition

Forty years after Nixon declared war on drugs, it’s time to give peace a chance.

By Jacob Sullum | June 15, 2011

Forty years ago this Friday, President Richard Nixon announced that “public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse.” Declaring that “the problem has assumed the dimensions of a national emergency,” he asked Congress for money to “wage a new, all-out offensive,” a crusade he would later call a “global war on the drug menace.”

The war on drugs ended in May 2009, when President Obama’s newly appointed drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, said he planned to stop calling it that. Or so Kerlikowske claims. “We certainly ended the drug war now almost two years ago,” he told Seattle’s PBS station last March, “in the first interview that I did.” If you watch the exchange on YouTube, you can see he said this with a straight face.

In reality, of course, Richard Nixon did not start the war on drugs, and Barack Obama, who in 2004 called it “an utter failure,” did not end it. The war on drugs will continue as long as the government insists on getting between people and the intoxicants they want.