The 80’s

Ethan Nadelmann | February 2, 2019

The early years of the War on Drugs Stigma surrounding marijuana began to heat up slowly in the ‘80s starting with Ronald Reagan. Rudy Giuliani was working in the Justice Department and began to plot out a kind of federal war on drugs. 1986 is when it really took off. All of the liberal views around marijuana in the late ’70s were pushed to the side and almost eradicated. There was a major generational shift in the late ‘80s. That’s when you hit the crack cocaine craze, when people started to get hysterical. It’s when the fears around rising levels of violent crime connected to the illicit drug markets came to light. With the idea of crack cocaine in our minds, this instantly addictive drug for anybody who touches it. A Republican in the White House plus fearful Democrats in Congress was the perfect storm for the government to write some new laws. What happened during the next three years was like McCarthyism on steroids. Drug war rhetoric had gone crazy. In the midst of that hysterical phase, a few things happened in 1988. I was an assistant professor at Princeton and had spent the last few years researching international drug control. I also interviewed DEA and Drug Enforcement agents in 19 different countries in Europe and South America. My dissertation was about the internationalization of crime and law enforcement. Getting to know things from the inside was important, but I always believed that the war on drugs was counterproductive. There were …

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