President Nixon Declares "War" on Drugs

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President Nixon Declares "War" on Drugs


By: Richard M. Nixon

Date: June 17, 1971

Source: The American Presidency Project

About the Author: Richard Milhous Nixon (1913–1994) was the thirty-seventh president of the United States. He was a Republican who was first elected in 1968 and re-elected in 1972. The famous Watergate scandal involving irregularities during the re-election campaign came to light shortly after that campaign, and Nixon resigned in 1974.


Drug use and abuse have been common in societies worldwide for thousands of years. But it is only in the last 200 years that governments have begun to try to tackle drug abuse with a view to reducing some of the associated health problems and criminal activities.

The Harrison Narcotic Act, passed in 1914, was one of the first formal attempts to control drug abuse in the United States. It put strict controls on the prescription, sale, and possession of opium, morphine, heroin, and cocaine (but not marijuana). Thousands of physicians, pharmacists, and users were arrested as a result of the Act. But America is perhaps best known for Prohibition, which began in 1919 and forbade people to buy or drink alcohol. Many Americans saw this as an intrusion into their private lives. The legislators accepted that there would be a certain amount of illicit use of alcohol, but they could never have anticipated how widespread it would be. Prohibition, which came to an end in 1933, saw the start of organized and large-scale crime in the United States.

In 1932, alcohol was illegal, while marijuana was not. Five years later, the situation was reversed when the Marijuana Tax Act was passed. This effectively outlawed marijuana. During the 1960s, there was a huge upsurge in illicit drug use, both among soldiers serving in the Vietnam War and at home. Many began to talk of decriminalization or even legalization of drugs. It was against this background that Richard Nixon came to power. He had been elected on a "law and order" platform and his "War on Drugs" was part of this platform. Nixon delivered these remarks to press representatives in the briefing room of the White House on June 17, 1971.


Ladies and gentlemen:

I would like to summarize for you the meeting that I have just had with the bipartisan leader which began at 8 o'clock and was completed 2 hours later.

I began the meeting by making this statement, which I think needs to be made to the Nation: America's public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.

I have asked the Congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of an offensive. This will be a worldwide offensive dealing with the problems of sources of supply, as well as Americans who may be stationed abroad, wherever they are in the world. It will be government wide, pulling together the nine different fragmented areas within the government in which this problem is now being handled, and it will be nationwide in terms of a new educational program that we trust will result from the discussions that we have had.

With regard to this offensive, it is necessary first to have a new organization, and the new organization will be within the White House. Dr. Jaffe, who will be one of the briefers here today, will be the man directly responsible. He will report directly to me, and he will have the responsibility to take all of the Government agencies, nine, that deal with the problems of rehabilitation, in which his primary responsibilities will be research and education, and see that they work not at cross-purposes, but work together in dealing with the problem.

If we are going to have a successful offensive, we need more money. Consequently, I am asking the Congress for $155 million in new funds, which will bring the total amount this year in the budget for drug abuse, both in enforcement and treatment, to over $350 million.

As far as the new money is concerned, incidentally, I have made it clear to the leaders that if this is not enough, if more can be used, if Dr. Jaffe, after studying this problem, finds that we can use more, more will be provided. In order to defeat this enemy which is causing such great concern, and correctly so, to so many American families, money will be provided to the extent that it is necessary and to the extent that it will be useful.

Finally, in order for this program to be effective, it is necessary that it be conducted on a basis in which the American people all join in it. That is why the meeting was bipartisan; bipartisan because we needed the support of the Congress, but bipartisan because we needed the leadership of the Members of the Congress in this field.

Fundamentally, it is essential for the American people to be alerted to this danger, to recognize that it is a danger that will not pass with the passing of the war in Vietnam which has brought to our attention the fact that a number of young Americans have become addicts as they serve abroad, whether in Vietnam, or Europe, or other places. Because the problem existed before we became involved in Vietnam; it will continue to exist afterwards. That is why this offensive deals with the problem there, in Europe, but will then go on to deal with the problem throughout America.

One final word with regard to Presidential responsibility in this respect. I very much hesitate always to bring some new responsibility into the White House, because there are so many here, and I believe in delegating those responsibilities to the departments. But I consider this problem so urgent—I also found that it was scattered so much throughout the Government, with so much conflict, without coordination—that it had to be brought into the White House.

Consequently, I have brought Dr. Jaffe into the White House, directly reporting to me, so that we have not only the responsibility, but the authority to see that we wage this offensive effectively and in a coordinated way.

The briefing team will now be ready to answer any questions on the technical details of the program.


President Nixon's "War on Drugs" speech set the scene for the establishment of the Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Institute for Drug Abuse. His attitude toward drug users was not wholly punitive; he set aside money for research and treatment as well. Jerome Jaffe, who is mentioned in the speech, began the "Drug Czar" position as head of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse. One of his first tasks was to deal with soldiers who had become addicted to heroin in Vietnam. Addicted soldiers were not released from the service until they had undergone treatment; this program resulted in many formerly addicted soldiers maintaining their sobriety when they returned home.

President Ronald Reagan continued the war on drugs in the 1980s, and slogans such as "Just Say No" and "Zero Tolerance" became popular. With the advent of AIDS, which can be spread by drug use, and the highly addictive crack cocaine, tough new penalties were introduced and incarcerations for drug offenses began to soar.

At the start of the twenty-first century, however, there were signs of a shift back towards the medical model of drug addiction. The state of California passed an act in 2000 that offered treatment instead of punishment for those convicted of minor drug offenses. This echoes the more pragmatic approach to drug policy adopted in the United Kingdom and some other European countries like The Netherlands. The policies in these countries emphasize harm reduction, decreasing demand, and offering treatment for abuse problems.

In the United States, the Office of National Drug Control Policy establishes policies, priorities, and objectives for the nation's drug control program. Statistics relating to drug usage in the U.S. are gathered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (a part of the National Institutes of Health) studies and disseminates information on drug abuse and addiction, prevention, and treatment. While the use of certain drugs, such as crack cocaine, and hallucinogens, such as LSD, were reduced by the turn of the twenty-first century, new drugs, such as synthetic morphine and codeine, "club" drugs, such as ecstasy and methamphetamines, contributed to a resurgence in drug use among older teens and young adults.



Goldstein, Avram. Addiction: From Biology to Drug Policy. New York: W. H. Freeman, 1994.

United Nations Drug Control Program. World Drug Report 2000: United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Web sites

Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Healing America's Drug Users: Getting Treatment Resources Where They Are Needed." February 2005. 〈〉 (accessed November 24, 2005).

The Addiction Doctor. "History of Drug Laws." 〈〉 (accessed November 24, 2005).

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President Nixon Declares "War" on Drugs

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President Nixon Declares "War" on Drugs