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Nixon Tapes Reveal Origins Of Today's Drug War

The Former Governor Delivered An Honest, Thorough Report. The President Wanted Something Different.

Washington, DC: "We need, and I use the word 'all out war,' or all fronts . . . ." That was Richard Nixon's reaction to his national commission's recommendation that marijuana no longer be a criminal offense, according to Nixon's Oval Office tapes. The year after Nixon's "all out war" marijuana arrests jumped by over 100,000 people.

(Download a PDF copy of the CSDP Research Report, "Nixon Tapes Show Roots of Marijuana Prohibition: Misinformation, Culture Wars and Prejudice," as well as text transcripts of portions of Nixon White House taped conversations, including the portions excerpted in the report. Also, check out this column written by humorist Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post on March 21, 2002, based on CSDP's research work, "Just What Was He Smoking?" Read this op-ed by CSDP President Kevin B. Zeese, "Once-Secret 'Nixon Tapes' Show Why The US Outlawed Pot." Finally, review the Shafer Commission's report, "Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding," by clicking here.)

The Nixon White House tapes from 1971-1972 demonstrate that the foundation of the modern war on marijuana was Nixonian prejudice, culture war and misinformation. CSDP's Doug McVay spent several days at the National Archives listening to the Nixon White House tapes to find conversations about drug policy, especially regarding the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse ("the Shafer Commission"), appointed by President Nixon. He found: Nixon blaming calls for marijuana legalization on Jews; Nixon blaming the decline and fall of ancient Rome, and of the Catholic Church, on homosexuality; and Nixon criticizing the CBS sitcom "All in the Family" as a show which promoted homosexuality. (Check out some of these transcripts.)

More importantly, Nixon made clear several times that he wanted a report which supported his views and 'tough on crime' policies, no matter what the facts might be. To his credit, Governor Shafer delivered instead an honest report, with conclusions based on all the evidence -- even though at the time he was being considered for a federal judgeship (needless to say, he didn't get it).

"At a critical juncture when the United States decided how it would handle marijuana, President Nixon's prejudices did more to dominate policy that the thoughtful and extensive review of his own Blue Ribbon Commission," observed Kevin Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy. "If we had followed the advice of the experts rather than Nixon's prejudices we would have less marijuana use, be spending less money on marijuana enforcement and many million less people would have been arrested." Since the Commission issued its recommendation that marijuana offenses not be a crime, fifteen million people have been arrested on marijuana charges.

Highlights of Nixon comments on marijuana:

Jews and marijuana: "I see another thing in the news summary this morning about it. That's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it's because most of them are psychiatrists . . ."
Marijuana and the culture wars: "You see, homosexuality, dope, immorality in general. These are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff, they're trying to destroy us."
Marijuana compared to alcohol: marijuana consumers smoke "to get high" while "a person drinks to have fun." Nixon also saw marijuana leading to loss of motivation and discipline but claimed: "At least with liquor I don't lose motivation."
Marijuana and political dissent: ". . . radical demonstrators that were here . . . two weeks ago . . . They're all on drugs, virtually all."
Drug education: "Enforce the law, you’ve got to scare them."

The Links:
Download a PDF copy of the CSDP Research Report, "Nixon Tapes Show Roots of Marijuana Prohibition: Misinformation, Culture Wars and Prejudice."
Click here to download text transcripts of portions of Nixon White House taped conversations, including the portions excerpted in the report.
Check out this column written by humorist Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post on March 21, 2002, based on CSDP's research work, "Just What Was He Smoking?"
Read this op-ed by CSDP President Kevin B. Zeese, "Once-Secret 'Nixon Tapes' Show Why The US Outlawed Pot."
Finally, review the Shafer Commission report, "Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding."