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.”
#TBT On Dec. 14, 1970, at the White House, the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers’ Association presented President Nixon with a “certificate of special honor" in recognition of the outstanding loyalty and contribution to support narcotic law enforcement. #DEAHistory pic.twitter.com/xC5Omns20q
— DEA HQ (@DEAHQ) February 1, 2024
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.”
— Justin Strekal (@justinstrekal) February 2, 2024
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).
#TBT Nixon signed the fear- and stigma-based Controlled Substances Act in 1970, declared the disastrous “war on drugs” in 1971, & ignored calls to decriminalize marijuana in 1972. @DEAHQ’s history leaves all that out. Our Drug War History page doesn’t: https://t.co/MuJ5QatKgz https://t.co/RSnEf0fwIt
— Drug Policy Alliance (@DrugPolicyOrg) February 1, 2024
“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?”
This is the agency that we are supposed to trust to objectively decide #cannabis final schedule?
Posting drug war propaganda to kick off the first day of Black History Month? https://t.co/mxs02mFx7P
— Kaliko Castille (@WizKaliko) February 2, 2024
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.
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. 🤡 https://t.co/FHUkD9F76G pic.twitter.com/cIDnURpahs
— Cat Packer (@cat_packer) February 1, 2024
Here’s how others reacted to DEA’s Nixon post:
DEA starting Black History Month with a ‘throwback Thursday’ that should remind everyone they were founded by racists with the intention of systemically oppressing and harming people of color in the US and around the world https://t.co/vuO3fAd3TH https://t.co/FACrb0BRKk pic.twitter.com/oE0xWPtU8n
— Ryan Marino, MD (@RyanMarino) February 1, 2024
Literally just got done with a training where we cited John Ehrlichman admitting that the WoD specifically targeted Black people and how this has led to mass incarceration & overdose deaths.
— Lighthouse Learning Collective (@HRC_Lighthouse) February 2, 2024
White House: Well, it's Black History Month. What do folks have planned?
DEA: Glazing on Nixon.
WH: I'm sorry…what?
DEA: What better way to celebrate Black people by honoring the guy who weaponized drug use to incarcerate millions of Black folks?
WH: *Sigh* https://t.co/FNwM87gXsu
— Coalition for Syringe Access (@SyringeAccess) February 2, 2024
— Sanho Tree (@SanhoTree) February 1, 2024
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.