The War on Drugs at 50: Time to Finally End it

Left: President Nixon in 1971; right: DPA protestors.

Blame it on Richard Nixon. The worst modern-day U.S. president prior to Donald Trump started the War on Drugs, which turns 50 on June 17. 

Let's take a look at the timeline:

• 1937: The Marihuana Tax Act passed by Congress, federally prohibiting the sale and use of cannabis.

• 1965: Timothy Leary arrested for marijuana possession.

• 1969: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Leary, calling the Tax Act unconstitutional.

• May 1, 1971: Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, placing marijuana in Schedule I, hence banning it again.

• June 17, 1971: Nixon declared the War on Drugs in a speech (see clip below), calling drug abuse "Public Enemy No. 1" in the U.S.

• 1973: Oregon decrimninalized cannabis.

• 1982: Nancy Reagan started the Just Say No anti-drug movement.

• 1996: California medicalized cannabis.

• 2012: Colorado and Washington State legalized cannabis.

• 2021: Most of the U.S is either legalized, decriminalized or medicalized but cannabis remains illegal federally.

"It's time to declare a truce and end this domestic war on citizens once and for all."

In a nutshell, this is where we're currently at. Attempts in Washington, DC are being made to deschedule, which would again end cannabis prohibition, but with little Republican support in the Senate it will be hard to pass such legislation in this Congress.

With the anniversary in mind, on June 15, Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) unveiled the Drug Policy Reform Act in association with Drug Policy Alliance. Among other things, the bill ends criminal penalties for drug possession at the federal level, shifts regulatory authority from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and expunges criminal records.

"This bill gives us a way out - a chance to reimagine what the next 50 years can be," says DPA's Policy Manager for the Office of National Affairs Queen Adesuyi. "It allows us to offer people support instead of punishment. And it gives people who have been harmed by these draconian laws a chance to move forward and embrace some semblance of the life they have long been denied.”

The MORE Act is also proposed in the House, where it passed last year. Reintroduced by Rep. Gerald Nadler (D-NY) on May 28, it has similar language to the Reform Act.

While these Acts might get through the House, they will be hard-pressed to receive majority support in the Senate.

The War on Drugs continues, though somewhat gutted. It's a war with few leaders and fewer and fewer victories. It's time to declare a truce and end this domestic war on citizens once and for all.



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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.