Republicans may well try and take away millions of Americans’ right to vote in the next presidential election by enforcing a federal law called the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), a law enacted by President Nixon in 1970.
This law was the brainchild of John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic affairs advisor and John Dean, Nixon’s general counsel. I was Dean’s literary agent for Blind Ambition, a best-selling book about his White House years. While working with Dean on the book, he told me about how the act came about.
He and Ehrlichman came up with the idea to drastically reduce the number of Black and young people being able to vote in Nixon’s upcoming presidential election. Their new law would make smoking or possessing marijuana a felony. If an American citizen is convicted of a felony, they lose their right to vote. Dean told me what the “war on drugs” was really about was taking the vote away from Black people and the anti-war left. The new law resulted in the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which then divided all the drugs Americans used into five categories.
The DEA sorted these drugs into a schedule. Those at the top of the schedule were deemed to be the most dangerous. They included heroin, LSD, and marijuana. DEA agents were ordered to prosecute those who used or sold such drugs.
Ehrlichman and Nixon’s plan was that by getting the public to associate hippies and African Americans with marijuana, they would make them into criminals. Ehrlichman said, “We could then arrest their leaders and raid their homes. We’d be able to vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about drugs? Of course we did.”
That was 50 years ago. Today over 100 million Americans have smoked marijuana. It is legal in 33 states. Cannabis has also widely been accepted for its medical uses. Much of the world has, by now, decriminalized it. Smoking pot is even legal in North Korea.
Smoking or even possessing pot is still illegal in the United States and can still be prosecuted under federal law. The fact that the last few administrations have not widely enforced the law doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
One would hope that the many states that have legalized pot would protect its citizens from felony convictions, however, under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, federal law preempts conflicting state and local laws. There is no protection for a citizen because state laws are always subservient to federal laws. When a conflict between the two occurs, federal laws always prevail.
So, what does all this mean? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, there have been over 12 million cannabis arrests in the United States since 1996. Just a decade ago almost a million persons were arrested for marijuana violations. According to the American Civil Liberties, there were 8.2 million marijuana arrests from 2001 to 2010, and 88 percent of those arrests were for marijuana possession alone.
Finally, even though it has been shown that Black and White people use marijuana at about the same rate, there is a 3.6 times greater chance for Black people being arrested for marijuana usage. So, if a newly elected Republican executive branch of government starts enforcing the law, they can significantly reduce the number of Black people who get to vote. Al Gore would have won Florida if convicted marijuana felons’ votes had been counted. We can’t let this happen again.
These same people who are taking away a woman’s legal right to abortion will now have the right and power to use the DEA to start arresting Black people, young Americans, and anyone else they feel would not vote for their agenda simply because they possess and smoke marijuana. The only thing that can stop them is for to for the law to be amended so that marijuana is no longer considered the most dangerous drug in the Controlled Substance Act. This must be done as soon as possible.
Plato said that “just” or “right” means nothing but what is in the interest of the strongest party. We must change this act before Republicans use it to try and steal the presidency.