Though he toyed with drug reform, David Cameron abandoned it for fear of hostile headlines. Yet the path from prohibition is a modern, conservative and radical step which makes sense politically, too

29 Apr 2014

It is 43 years since Richard Nixon, in need of a public enemy to shore up support for his snarling style of uncompassionate conservatism, declared war on a new target. "America's public enemy No 1 is drug abuse," he declared, warning Congress that the problem of narcotics had "assumed the dimensions of a national emergency".

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Having risen to national prominence as an anti-communist campaigner, Nixon's new foe was the counterculture. His stance was widely assumed to be an attack on the hippie culture he so despised, with academics, writers and rock stars promoting the use of hallucinogens, but the media was also full of stories of clean-cut young men returning from Vietnam as junkies.

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Nixon pushed new funds towards drug control agencies and backed tougher sentencing and policing. Marijuana, ludicrously identified as a "gateway" drug to heroin, was placed in the most restrictive category. Meanwhile, the United States used its muscle to ensure that the rest of the world joined one of the most futile, destructive and immoral wars the human race ever inflicted upon itself.

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