The Global Initiative For Drug Policy Reform

Nixon and the Beginnings of the War

The prohibitionist approach continued into the 1950s and 1960s and became enshrined within the 1961 UN Single Convention, threatening to ostracise any deviant nations from the Conventions into the international wilderness. The 1961 Convention, following Amending Protocols and new Drug Conventions would remain strict in their adherence to the US’ prohibitive rhetoric.

During the 1960s and early 1970s the illegal drugs trade grew at a vast pace, especially within the US. Nixon was faced with a jump in marijuana use with the rise of the ‘anti-establishment hippie’ and the challenge of swathes of heroin addicted US soldiers in Vietnam. The resulting boom in demand for illicit substances saw a surge in both production and profits south of the US border. The Whitehouse’s political response saw President Nixon declare drug abuse “a serious national threat” in a special message to Congress in July 1969 and call for a national anti-drug policy at both a state and federal level.


This was followed in October 1970 by Congress passing the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. This piece of legislation consolidated previous drug laws and strengthened the criminalising approach to drug control, allowing police to conduct “no-knock” searches. Instead of attempting to gain an understanding of the basic reasons for the increasing domestic demand for drugs, the US began a ‘war’ on foreign growers and traffickers.

To extend this ‘war’, specifically throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in July 1973 in order to establish a single unified organisation to combat “an all-out global war on the drug menace”.

Mexico was, and continues to be, one of the most heavily affected countries by US anti-narcotic efforts. The Presidential Task Force Relating to Narcotics, Marijuana and Dangerous Drugs, set up by Nixon, identified cannabis as the ‘gateway drug’ to heroin addiction, and thus stated its number one priority to eradicate the production and refinement of opium poppies and cannabis plants throughout Mexico. US efforts ended up benefiting large-scale traffickers, who had access to fast boats and planes, instead targeting small-time amateur dealers and traffickers. From this point on traffickers were forced to become better-equipped and more tactically adept at avoiding US anti-narcotic efforts. 

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