1980s: The war on drugs goes into overdrive

At last there is a chance to set right the damaging legacy of Nixon’s offensive against narcotics

The World Today Updated 4 January 2021 Published 12 June 2015 2 minute READ

Richard Nixon declared an ‘all-out offensive’ against narcotics on in 1971, labelling them ‘America’s No 1 enemy’ in a speech many see as the start of the war on drugs.

The issue was pushed aside under Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, who had actually proposed decriminalizing marijuana during his 1977 presidential campaign. But in the 1980s it returned with a vengeance, waged aggressively in a decade of political and public hysteria.

Ronald Reagan’s move to the White House heralded a series of draconian drug measures both at home and abroad.

Domestically, zero tolerance policies were put in place. New public awareness campaigns were launched, notably Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ slogan and the Los Angeles Police chief Daryl Gates’s drug abuse resistance education (DARE), with the objectives of making drug use socially unacceptable. Gates once said: ‘Casual drug users should be taken out and shot.’

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