The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is facing criticism over its decision to commemorate President Richard Nixon’s drug war legacy in a social media post that coincided with the beginning of Black History Month.
DEA’s Throwback Thursday (or TBT) post on X featured a picture of Nixon receiving a “certificate of special honor” from the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers’ Association in December 1970 “in recognition of the outstanding loyalty and contribution to support narcotic law enforcement.”
Advocates blasted the homage as tone-deaf, memorializing a president whose own domestic policy advisor would later disclose that his boss promoted punitive drug laws in large part to target his political “enemies,” namely “the anti-war left and Black people.”
DEA didn’t necessarily endorse or provide commentary beyond sharing the moment in history—but the TBT post quickly incited criticism given the timing in connection to Black History Month.
It was also about six months after the photo of Nixon was taken that he’d infamously declare a war on drugs, fueling a mass incarceration movement that would have racially disparate impacts lasting generations into the modern day.
As the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) pointed out, 1970 also marked the year that Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), codifying broad drug criminalization in a way that has long empowered DEA and is actively being reviewed by the agency as it weighs a marijuana rescheduling recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“This is the agency that we are supposed to trust to objectively decide cannabis final schedule?” Kaliko Castille, who recently ended his tenure as president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), said. “Posting drug war propaganda to kick off the first day of Black History Month?”
Cat Packer, director of drug markets and legal regulation at DPA, shared the sentiment.
“On the first day of Black History Month 2024 the Biden Administration’s DEA is celebrating President Nixon—this is the same agency responsible for marijuana scheduling,” she said.
The unpopularity of the drug war and DEA’s role in that crusade hasn’t stopped the agency from celebrating its history.
Last year, for example, it touted its 50-year anniversary, marking a half century of enforcing criminalization laws that have failed to fulfill the mission to eradicate drugs at the same time that nearly half of the country has legalized marijuana and psychedelics reform is also booming.
DEA’s own museum is rife with subtle acknowledgements that the agency has failed to win the drug war. In 2022, the museum even publicly recognized the fact that racially discriminatory drug laws are partly responsible for the agency’s own founding.
In any case, the agency is now actively completing a review into cannabis scheduling that could either depart from, or reinforce, its reputation with the public that’s invited criticism. While HHS has advised DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the CSA, the law enforcement agency has emphasized that it reserves “final authority” in the matter, so it remains to be seen. (Full Story)