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History As It Happens

Sep 28, 2021

In the summer of 1971 President Richard Nixon declared “drug use public enemy number one,” signaling the dramatic escalation of punitive measures against users, peddlers, and makers of narcotics at home and abroad. Fifty years later, the toll of the all-out effort to criminalize narcotics is staggering. It has cost more than a trillion taxpayer dollars, yet over the past quarter-century more than 700,000 Americans have died of drug overdoses, according to Davidson College scholar Russell Crandall, a specialist in Latin American studies and author of “Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America’s War on Drugs.”

In this episode Crandall, who served as a national security aide to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, discusses the drug war’s failures at a time when Americans are having an overdue reckoning on a number of fronts, from the war on terrorism to massive income inequality. Yet the drug war drags on without accountability or course correction.