John Ehrlichman, Watergate co-conspirator

So – remind me again – why is heroin illegal? Is it really the terrible drug it is made out to be?

Surprisingly, aside from its fearsome addictiveness, it is a relatively benign drug.

A heroin addict can live to a ripe old age, without any damage to their body whatsoever. You can’t say that about alcohol.

However, certain conditions have to be met for that to be true. Those conditions are: a clean and secure supply, clean needles, regulated strength.

What kills a heroin addict is its illegality. It is shared needles, adulterated product, uncertain strength.

It is allowing the drug to be sold and administered by criminal gangs whose only purpose is to amass vast profits on the backs of other people’s weaknesses.

There is a story in this month’s Harper’s Magazine, about John Ehrlichman, the Watergate co-conspirator, and close aide to Richard Nixon.

It was Richard Nixon who started the War on Drugs.

Ehrlichman said that the Nixon Whitehouse in 1968 had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.

He said, “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.

“We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.

“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

So there you go. The War on Drugs was a cynical conspiracy started by a criminal administration in order to block opposition to the Vietnam War, and it was based on lies.

With that kind of provenance it seems strange that the basic structures are still in place. Sick people being targeted by the law.

Heroin addiction should be seen as a medical disorder, not a criminal one. We should have compassion for those who are caught in its fierce grip.

They should be allowed to live in dignity, rather than criminalising them and risking their lives by handing them over to the exploitation of gangsters.

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