40 Years Ago: The Beginning of Nixon’s Drug War in His Own Words

While condemning drugs, drug users, and popular rock culture, Nixon still found time to make Elvis Presley a special agent of the DEA. Yes, it's true.

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Transcripts by Common Sense for Drug Policy

May 13, 1971, between 10:30am and 12:30pm — Oval Office Conversation 498-5– meeting with Nixon, Haldeman and Ehrlichman

Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-Left-wingers-push-dope.mp3)

RN: “And let’s look at the strong societies. The Russians. God damn it, they root them out, they don’t let them around at all. You know what I mean? I don’t know what they do with them. Now, we are allowing this in this country when we show [unintelligible]. Dope? Do you think the Russians allow dope? Hell no. Not if they can allow, not if they can catch it, they send them up. You see, homosexuality, dope, immorality in general: These are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff, they’re trying to destroy us.”

[Later on in this conversation tape, Bob Haldeman left, and George Schultz entered with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. The following is from that segment. The President and Daley are talking about how Chicago approaches drugs.]

Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-Its-marijuana-speed-LSD-heroin.mp3)

RN: “Well, let me tell you one thing that just happened here because it probably wasn’t, I’m sure it wasn’t in the press here, I had a press conference in California which was not televised, but, I was asked about marijuana because a study is being made by a, group, [unintelligible] the government. Now, my position is flat-out on that. I am against legalizing marijuana. Now I’m against legalizing marijuana because, I know all the arguments about, well, marijuana is no worse than whiskey, or etc. etc. etc. But the point is, once you cross that line, from the straight society to the drug society — marijuana, then speed, then it’s LSD, then it’s heroin, etc. then you’re done. But the main point is — well, well we conduct, well this commission will come up with a number of recommendations perhaps with regard to, [unintelligible] the penalties more, because [unintelligible] too far in this respect. As far as legalizing them is concerned, I think we’ve got to take a strong stand, one way or the other, and, uh.”

RD: “Against, uh.”

RN: “Against legalizing. That’s the position that I take. Because I think if we legalized it, take the, then, then, your high school and elementary kid, well why not? It [unintelligible].”

May 18, 1971, 12:16 pm – 12:35 pm — Oval Office Conversation No. 500-17 — The President met with Arthur G. (Art) Linkletter and DeVan L. Shumway; Oliver F. (“Ollie”) Atkins was present at the beginning of the meeting.

Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-Nations-destroyed-by-drugs.mp3)

AL: “And then of course, uh, um, I bear down mostly on marijuana because that’s the puberty rite today, and I really give them a lecture on marijuana. And you see, the big problem with marijuana–”

RN: “I was asked about marijuana –”

AL: “You should know this –”

RN: “– two weeks ago in, uh, California, the, what do you say about this, I said well, we’re going to have a commission report, I said, [unintelligible] can be very clear, whatever it says, I’m against legalizing.

AL: “Absolutely.”

RN: “I said, now, as far as penalties are concerned, that’s something else, they should of course be uniform but we, I’m against legalizing, period. I think you’ve got to draw the line on the damn thing because–”

AL: “That’s right. That’s right.”

RN: “– they say, well, it’s the same with booze. Well, maybe booze is bad, but the point is that, uh, you can, uh, uh, maybe booze can lead to marijuana, can lead to, speed, or uh, or LSD, can lead to heroin, so forth. But, basically, I mean, uh, I know, uh, another way to look at it is this, if I may say so, with regard to, if you get to a, a little more sophisticated audience who really care about destiny, and if you uh, [unintelligible] history, has ever been destroyed by alcohol. An awful lot of nations have been destroyed by drugs.”

AL: “That’s right.”

RN: “Now, this doesn’t, this is no advocacy for alcoholics, good God, it’s a horrible problem–”

AL: “Terrible.”

RN: “And, uh, you and I and many mutual friends, and we can have, we um there but for the grace of God go I, all of us, you know. But, believe me, it is true, the thing about the drug, once people cross that line from the, from [unintelligible] straight society to the, the drug society, it’s uh, it’s a very great possibility they’re going to go further, it’s [unintelligible] — ”

AL: “That’s right.

RN: “I don’t know, I, I say don’t give up.”

Download audio file (Art-Linkletter-Drugs-go-much-further-than-booze.mp3)

AL: “There’s a great difference between alcohol and marijuana.

RN: “What is it?”

AL: “The worst that you can have when you’re in with other alcoholics is more to drink, so you’ll throw up more and get sicker and be drunker.”

RN: “And that also is a great, great incentive, uh–”

AL: “But when you are with druggers, the, you can go from marijuana to say heroin. Big difference.”

RN: “I see.”

AL: “If, if, if you’re with a guy who suggests you have three more drinks than you should have, you’re just going to get sicker. But if you’re with a guy who you’re already high and he suggests you try, this instead of this, you can go much further. Now, let me tell you one thing about marijuana you should know, that all of, the word marijuana should never be used until you say, what kind of marijuana.”

RN: “Oh.”

AL: “There is every grade. Now they say legalize marijuana or it isn’t bad. What marijuana isn’t bad? The mild stuff we grow in Wisconsin, or the stuff from Morocco? The twigs and the leaves, or the rosin? The kind of person who uses it, is he psychotically sound or unsound, is he [unintelligible]? All these things make a difference. So when you say marijuana, you’re saying [from one to twenty ?]. And you can never say marijuana, you’ve got to say: marijuana Acapulco, or marijuana from Mexico, or marijuana from Illinois. Three different things. And, what kind of a person is getting it, what kind of people is he with? I think that marijuana [unintelligible] all people with [unintelligible].”

RN: “[unintelligible]”

Download audio file (Art-Linkletter-Pot-smokers-cant-think-straight.mp3)

AL: Yes. There’s a man, named Dr. Harvey House (?). Dr. House (?) is the chief clinical psychiatrist at the University of California in Berkeley. Five years ago, they asked him for the paper what he thought of marijuana, and he said, it’s a light hallucinogen, probably wouldn’t cause any harm to anybody. And this was played up. And he was worried because it was so played up. He spent five years studying. About two months ago he released his new story, and it can all be put in five words: pot smokers can’t think straight. Pot smokers can’t think straight. If you are a regular head and use it regularly, you are not using your priorities correctly. You are not judging what is most important. You have a kind of a will-less way of thinking. And he described it, [unintelligible], as guys walking along a meadow, and have the same appearance, but some parts were boggy and quicksandy and some were firm, and that’s the kind of thinking that pot smokers have, they, they, and, and when people like that say these things you can’t tell me that this guy Brown, from your NIMH who was quoted this morning as saying that, uh, marijuana is really nothing and perhaps should be, uh, should be given the same penalty as a parking ticket. Good night!”

RN: “Now did you see this statement by Brown, the National Institute of Mental Health this morning? Uh, he should be out. I mean, today, today. If he’s a presidential appointee [unintelligible] do is fire the son of a bitch, and I mean today! Get the son of a bitch out of here. Don’t know whether he’s, probably just a [unintelligible] but he’s going to be out.”

AL: “Good. That’s a terrible thing for a guy in his position to say. A parking ticket would be the equivalent, he was quoted as saying. Because, uh, because, uh, marijuana is insidious. It can be harmless, and nothing, and it can be terrible.”

Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-with-Art-Linkletter-smoke-to-get-high-drink-to-have-fun.mp3)

RN: “I know. Well, you know I suppose they could say that, alcoholics don’t think straight too, can’t they?”

AL: “Yes. [unintelligible] Really. But, but another big difference between marijuana and alcohol is that when people s- smoke marijuana, they smoke it to get high. In every case, when most people drink, they drink to be sociable. You don’t see people –”

RN: “That’s right, that’s right.”

AL: “They sit down with a marijuana cigarette to get high –”

RN: “A person does not drink to get drunk.

AL: “That’s right.”

RN: “A person drinks to have fun.

AL: “I’d say smoke marijuana, you smoke marijuana to get high.”

RN: “Smoke marijuana, er, uh, you want to get a charge –”

AL: “Right now –”

RN: “– of some sort, you want to get a charge, and float, and this and that and the other thing.”

May 26, 1971, Time: 10:03 am – 11:35 am — Oval Office Conversation: 505-4 — Meeting with Nixon and HR ‘Bob’ Haldeman

Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-Goddamned-strong-statement-Jews.mp3)

RN: “Now, this is one thing I want. I want a Goddamn strong statement on marijuana. Can I get that out of this sonofabitching, uh, Domestic Council?”

HRH: “Sure.”

RN: “I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them. I see another thing in the news summary this morning about it. You know it’s a funny thing,  every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists, you know, there’s so many, all the greatest psychiatrists are Jewish. By God we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss, I want to find a way of putting more on that. More [ unintelligible ] work with somebody else with this.”

HRH: “Mm hmm, yep.”

RN: “I want to hit it, against legalizing and all that sort of thing.

June 17, 1971 – Nixon declares War on Drugs and calls drugs “Public Enemy Number One” at a press conference

Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-Public-enemy-number-1-full.mp3)

RN:  ”I am glad that in this administration we have increased the amount of money for handling the problem of dangerous drugs seven-fold; it will be $600 million dollars this year.  More money will be needed in the future.  I want to say, however, that despite our budget problems, to the extent that money can help in meeting the problems of dangerous drugs, it will be available.  This is one area where we cannot have budget cuts.  Because we must wage what I have called total war against Public Enemy Number One in the United States – the problem of dangerous drugs.’

September 9, 1971, 3:03 pm – 3:34 pm — Oval Office Conversation No. 568-4 — The President met with Raymond P. Shafer, Jerome H. Jaffe, and Egil G. (“Bud”) Krogh, Jr.; the White House photographer was present at the beginning of the meeting.

Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-Its-now-becoming-a-white-problem.mp3)

RN: “When will the marijuana one come out?

RPS: “The marijuana will come out in March ’72. In other words we are coming into the final phases of it now, we’ve had all of our public hearings. We have not, we have nine more informal hearings.”

RN: “You’ve had all your public hearings already?”

RPS: “All of the public hearings, yes, and, uh, we’ve had, had, have had several informal hearings, we have nine more of those including one at, at federal college (?), Monday.”

RN: “Here.”

RPS: “Right here in Washington, [unintelligible].”

RN: “Hard to find anybody who isn’t on the stuff?”

RPS: “Uh, no. [unintelligible] Over 75 percent of the [unintelligible] are white, and, uh, and under 18, almost 85 percent, which I [unintelligible].”

RN: “It’s now becoming a white problem.


Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-Cigarettes-illegal-marijuana-legal.mp3)

RN: “What you have here is a very interesting live situation, where there is a certain [unintelligible] through the country, that, heh, on the one hand want to make smoking illegal, cigarette smoking illegal and marijuana legal. Now, that’s what I mean, that doesn’t make any damned sense now. I mean, probably if we repeat what that didn’t help its best aspects everything shouldn’t do anything shouldn’t need it, but uh, you know if they’re going to [unintelligible]. On the marijuana thing, I have very strong feelings that that’s, uh the, best final, uh, analysis, that once you start down that road, uh, the chances of going further down that road are greater. I’m aware some disagree with that, but uh, the uh, and also we have some people that are, frankly promoting it. They’re not good people. The whole marijuana, uh–”


Download audio file (Raymond-Shafer-What-does-he-mean-by-legalization.mp3)

RPS: “And insofar as legalization, I think the thing that has caused us the greatest problem was your statement in San Clemente — which is a part of your strong convictions, naturally you expressed them as you felt them. But you used the word legalization, and, the way I answered it was, Look, we’re a national commission, we’re going to take a look at the whole picture, we know that the president is interested in what we’re doing, is concerned about the problem, and, uh, we’ve never had a chance to discuss what he means by legalization. If he means, uh, removing all controls, or if [unintelligible] simple possession, these are things that can be worked out at a later date. We’re going ahead and make our studies, and I know that he is wholeheartedly behind us because of everything that he has done. That does not mean that he’s going to agree with everything which we say, but, that he knows that these are men of, uh, integrity, men and women of integrity who wanted to do something for their country.”

RN: “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.”

RPS: “Now, what, what happened on this when this statement was made, several members of the commission called up and said, well we may as well, give up. I said No, that isn’t right, the President has his own, uh, convictions on this and he isn’t going to tell the Commission what to say or what not to say.”

RN: “Come out with a different view.”

RPS: “Well certainly, you know we [unintelligible, both RPS and RN talk at once]

RPS: “Well, yes, but sure, the point is, that, I mean, say what they say, what the Commission is doing is, is, is following [unintelligible], and in fact, the, the confidential report that I had prepared to give you to Bud so that you, you’ve maybe even seen it–”

RN: “Yeah.”

RPS: “–gives clearly the direction that we’re going, and I think that that should relieve your mind, uh, uh, insofar as your personal convictions or so. We don’t want you to say, Well I’ve got a great commission, anything they say we’ll follow; well of course not, that’s ridiculous.”

RN: “No, no. [unintelligible], to look at it.”


Download audio file (Raymond-Shafer-Demythologize-marijuana.mp3)

RPS: “We want to de-mythologize marijuana so that the kids aren’t going out experimenting with it because they think it’s great stuff. And uh, [unintelligible RPS and others talking at once]. I think, I think that we’ve gone into this thing as, uh deeply as, as uh, any commission could. [unintelligible], I’m, I’m having a great time learning, and, uh, we, we have individuals, but what we need from you is your, uh, public support, as a commission, not from the standpoint that you’re going to accept what we say but that here is a commission that is working on a problem that cuts across the cross-section of every, uh, family in, in the nation, next, next to your economy, and incidentally I think that what you’ve done in that regard is excellent.”

RN: “No, we’re –”

RPS: “But what we–”

RN: “Yeah, yeah, this, this, you’re right, it’s terribly important.”

Download audio file (Raymond-Shafer-staying-away-from-legalization-endorsement.mp3)

RPS: “Next to the economy, and also the winding down of the war which I don’t think will be a particular issue next year and I think you agree with me there. I think the problems of drug abuse will be a political issue. And, while our report isn’t going to give you a platform, , but it can be a source of possible embarrassment and that’s why I don’t want to have, give any ammunition to the, those who would like to use it against you.”

EK: “So far you’re staying away from any possible endorsement of legalization of marijuana.”

RPS: “Absolutely, absolutely.”

March 21, 1972, 1:00 pm – 2:15 pm — Oval Office Conversation No. 690-11 — in this segment, the President is meeting with H. R. (“Bob”) Haldeman.

Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-Kick-the-Hell-out-of-it.mp3)

RN: “I saw, for example, [unintelligible] on a pamphlet they’re giving out on drugs. And, uh, presentation, [unintelligible], shows, which of course I would, [unintelligible], but where, uh, [unintelligible], they, they put in as a quote from the President on the front of the pamphlet with a picture, and a good strong picture and the rest, that said that, that the problem of drugs is our number one and must be dealt with in a variety of ways.”

HRH: “Eh.”

RN: “When I saw variety of ways I god damned near puked. And I thought, for pity’s sake, we need, and I use the word all out war, or all fronts, or, uh, uh, despicable, or, this in a variety of ways just pissed off [unintellig ible]. It’s typical, Bob, of what we get out of that shop over there.”

HRH: “Even if you want to make that overall [unintelligible]–”

RN: “You can’t say that–”

HRH: “You’ve got to, you’ve got to attack it, attack from every direction.”

RN: “–have to attack on all fronts.”

HRH: “On all fronts, yeah.”

RN: “Yeah.”

HRH: “You’ve got to attack the problem of the addict, the problem of the pusher, the problem of the, [unintelligible], victim. Yeah, boy you can sure, uh, water it down and then it –”

RN: “Variety of ways. Well now [unintelligible], except that, there are several ways.”

HRH: “Well what that means though is that we can’t really handle it.”

RN: “That’s right.”

HRH: “And that’s a, that’s a brush-off –”

RN: “It’s a cop out.”

HRH: “– it’s not like appointing a commission.”

RN: “A cop-out.”

HRH: “But handle it in a variety of ways really says we don’t know how to handle it. Which may be the truth. But it sure as hell isn’t the thing to say.”

RN: “Well. Here’s the thing to say, there’s ways to handle it, just, just kick the hell out of it. We enforce the law–”

HRH: “The way to talk, the thing to talk about, [unintelligible] all the Jaffe crap is not the stuff to talk about. I mean– ”

RN: “That’s what they hit me with [unintelligible]. Remember what I said.”

HRH: “I know.”

RN: “You got to kick [unintelligible] when I got out there and I didn’t do it. I, but what gets, who cares about the Jaffe stuff, the treating of the addicts.”

HRH: “The mothers don’t, because their kids aren’t addicts. And they’re, eh, you just don’t worry about that, what you worry about is this son of a bitch that’s going to come up –”

RN: “That’s right.”

HRH: “– and try to slip a packet of marijuana to your kid.”

RN: “Or, heroin.”

HRH: “Or heroin.”

RN: “Give them a fix. Or LSD, or something–”

HRH: “Or LSD, or slip something in his Coca-Cola.”

RN: “Yeah. Right.”

HRH: “That’s what you worry about, you’re not worried about addicts. Nobody knows an addict, but everybody knows a kid who’s been smoking marijuana.

RN: “Bob, the truth’s, people are not concerned about anybody but themselves.”

HRH: “Exactly.”

RN: “They’re not concerned about the other kids whose, uh–”

HRH: “Well kids aren’t addicts anyway, I mean nobody, there aren’t enough addicts, addicted kids, to matter.”

March 24, 1972, 3:02 pm – 3:39 pm — Oval Office Conversation No. 693-1 — press conference

Download audio file (Richard-Nixon-Comments-on-Shafer-Report.mp3)

Unknown reporter: “Mr. President, uh, do you have a comment sir on the, uh, recommendation of your commission on drugs that the use of marijuana in the home be, uh, no longer, uh, considered a crime?”

RN: “Um, I met with Mr. Shafer, uh, I’ve read the report, uh, eh, it is a report that deserves consideration and will receive it. However, as to one aspect of the report I am in disagreement. I was before I read it and reading it did not change my mind. Uh, I, uh, oppose the legalization of marijuana, and that includes the sale, its possession, and its use. I do not believe you can have effective criminal justice, uh, based on the philosophy, uh that something is half legal and half illegal. That is my position, despite what the commission has recommended.”

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