You want to know what this was really all about?. . .The Nixon campaign in 1968. . .had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. . .We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. . .Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

—John Ehrlichman, former Domestic Affairs advisor to Richard Nixon[1]

The War on Drugs that began under the Nixon administration in 1971 is an ignominy on multiple fronts. The U.S. prison industry houses over 2.3 million individuals, one in five of which are there for nonviolent drug-related offenses.[2] The cost to the taxpayers is even more egregious—over $1 trillion has been spent since the inception of the drug war.[3]

The extent to which the government keeps drugs flowing is confirmed time and again, in story after story. In 2015, it was uncovered that two Florida police departments—the Bal Harbour PD in Miami Beach and the Glades County Sheriff’s Office in Moore Haven—had laundered an exorbitant amount for the drug cartel(s). The story In the Miami Herald reads like an episode of the popular Netflix show Ozark:

Posing as launderers, the task force took in $55.6 million from the criminal groups, keeping thousands each week for themselves for laundering the money. They spent lavishly on first-class flights and five-star hotel stays. They bought Mac computers and submachine guns.[4]

Though may sound asinine to those who trust the State to protect us, the locals in Miami are well-aware of what their city is a derivative of: the drug trade that was made possible by the drug war.  For many, it represents the backbone of their enduring moral fiber, having been deeply interwoven in their memories while surrounding them like the permeating smell of the ocean. 

Im referring of course to the Cocaine Cowboys.[5] The vast skyscrapers and fancy cars that the city is known for today didn’t appear by accident. As a result of monopoly prices, the former were erected  through countless construction contracts, while the latter served the purpose of smuggling drugs in a nonchalant yet stylish manner; both were a means to launder vast sums of money in the same way they do today.

The famous movie stars and athletes who reside on present day Fisher Island suffer no fools in regard to the empires that preceded them. The Cocaine Cowboys consisted not only drug smugglers, but of average Joe’s making a quick buck along with, yes, many dirty cops. In what would have been an impossible feat otherwise, the government colluded to funnel the drugs in that fetched an artificially high price in conjunction with the billions laundered out.  

Many may remember the name Gary Webb; he was an investigative journalist that died of a “suicide” in 2004 after exposing the same sort of collusion in California:

 For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.[6]

Webb, as a matter of fact, was the prime example of the “two shots to the back of the head” type of suicide that we hear about all too often. Life moved on and today our government yields more power than it ever has. At what cost? A 2010 report noted that legalization would “save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition,” while “the total impact of drug legalization on government budgets would be approximately $88 billion per year.” [7]

References:

[1] Dan Baum, “Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs,” Harper’s Magazine, April 2016, 22.

[2] Peter Wagner and Wendy Sawyer, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018,” Prison Policy Initiative, March 14, 2018, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2018.html.; In 2015 alone there were 7.5 more arrests for mere possession than for selling or manufacturing drugs.

[3] Martha Mendoza, “U.S. drug war has met none of its goals,” NBC News, May 13, 2010, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/37134751/ns/us_news-security/t/us-drug-war-has-met-none-its-goals/#.XEL8ecHPyUk.

[4] Michael Sallah, License To Launder: Cash, Crops, and the Cartels,” Miami Herald, June 19, 2015, https://pubsys.miamiherald.com/static/media/projects/2015/license-to-launder/index.html.

[5]

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x292ax5

[6] Gary Webb, “America’s ‘crack’ plague has roots in Nicaragua war,” The Mercury News, August 18, 1996, https://web.archive.org/web/19961220020751/http://www.sjmercury.com/drugs/day1main.htm.

[7] Jeffrey A. Miron and Katherine Waldock, The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition (Washington D.C.: Cato Institute, 2010), 12.