The special relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom runs deep.
“There is no one I would rather have on my side than Margaret Thatcher,” Richard Nixon once said of the “Iron Lady,” who served as prime minister of the U.K. from 1979 to 1990.
If imitation is any indication, the transatlantic love-fest was mutual: Thatcher’s people had the same retrograde and racist attitudes about drugs as Nixon’s.
More than once has British drug control policy echoed America’s—in thought, if not in deed.
One of Nixon’s signature “accomplishments” is the Controlled Substances Act, which put the federal government squarely in the drug war business. One of the reasons for declaring marijuana an outlaw substance, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman would tell Harper’s, was so the government could make life more difficult for black people, hippies and other Americans it considered “enemies.”
Though her policies are credited now with eroding protections and services for the working class, Thatcher wasn’t quite so over the top—though when crack cocaine arrived in the U.K. in the 1980s, her administration was quick to associate it with black people and to cook up some bizarre strategies for combating it.
Responding to a fellow adviser’s suggestion to recruit black people in an anti-drug campaign, policy adviser Carolyn Sinclair said the plan would need “delicately handling,” according to the U.K. Independent, in part because black people gave weed to kids.
“Afro-Caribbeans rarely take ‘hard’ drugs such as heroin, but regard cannabis as part of life,” she wrote. “It is given to babies.”
Assuming all “Afro-Caribbeans” are marijuana users is one thing. (Maybe she assumed all black people are Rastafarians?) Stating, without any shred of evidence, that black babies were passed the dutchie is another. You can always tell the person in the room who knows black people.
“Most Afro-Caribbeans do not think that they, as a group, have a drug problem,” she continued. “But there are good reasons to fearing that ‘crack’ will get a hold on Afro-Caribbeans in a way that other hard drugs have not.”
Of course, there’s no pharmacological—that is, scientific—basis behind any of these suppositions.
This was not the first time the U.K. considered following bad U.S. policy on drugs.
In the 1980s, U.S. drug agents famously sprayed Mexican marijuana plants with toxic pesticide paraquat, the side effects of which include Parkinson’s disease, some experts believe.
Thatcher described as “characteristically brilliant” a similar British scheme to poison coca leaf plantations with pesticides, or perhaps even introduce a special “bug” that would attack the plant. That idea was abandoned after a top U.K. adviser noted that “only Peru” could wage biological warfare on its own people. (Apparently, only the U.S. can get away with dumping toxins on foreign soil in the name of domestic drug policy.)
And lest you think the one Thatcherite’s attitude was an outlier, remember what they believed was behind rioting and social unrest in inner cities. It wasn’t poverty or racism, but the “bad moral attitudes” of black people, other Thatcher aides wrote in a memo, as the Voice Online recalled. Yikes.
For the record, at the time of her death in 2013, about half of British people said they had a good opinion of Thatcher’s rule. Wonder what their parents gave them as babies.
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