"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalising both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did." (JE, 1994)

These are the words of John Erlichman, former Nixon White House Domestic Counsel and felon convicted for perjury in the Watergate Affair.

Erlichman's frank explanation of the Nixon strategy came to mind after Simon Bridges' peculiar remarks at Ratana. Incredibly, he said that "he can see no good in legalisation for Maoridom."

Surely he must know the simple facts. Maori are no more likely than other ethnicities to use cannabis, but they're far more likely to be arrested, and, in court, more likely to be convicted and imprisoned. Legalisation means that more Maori potentially are home with their families, working, living a productive life and not in prison.

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For Nixon to start his race-based "War on Drugs," America's longest war and its most abject failure, the President had to ignore the findings of his own Shafer commission, a national panel from medicine and law enforcement, which recommended decriminalisation of cannabis.

Furthering his own anti-cannabis stripes, Simon appointed Paula Bennett as Drug Reform Spokesperson for National. Paula promptly burnished her credentials as the shadow Minister for Fear, by admitting her new fear of ice-cream and beer-based cannabis — products that don't exist.

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon

I don't know whether all of National's foot-soldiers will be following their young fogey leader on to the wrong side of history. We haven't heard a word about cannabis lately from our local MP Harete Hipango. She was for it before she was against it. Back in the US, such politicians were described as "Mugwumps." Sitting on the fence, they have their mugs on one side of an issue and their wumps on the other.

I had been puzzled at Bridges leading National to a position opposed to the will of 70 per cent of Kiwis. Especially one so soaked in racist history. Before Nixon's politicisation of pot, it was first criminalised in 1937. Harry Ainslinger, a Prohibition Agent turned Drug Agent (with prohibition's repeal) successfully lobbied Congress to criminalise marijuana (cannabis's Mexican name). "Reefer makes the darkies and Mexicans think they're as good as white men…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races," are words he reportedly used.

National has its own history of racism to live down in its use of the dog whistles of Don Brash. It seems altogether inconsistent that the political party most responsible for removing regulations that stood in the way of big business, dumping anything in our rivers, in the name of profit, finds itself supporting the continuing of moralistic restrictions on individuals' freedom to choose how we deal with our bodies.

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges.

Bridges began a bromance with Former Green Party member and failed leadership contender Vernon Tava. He suggested formation of a party of conservative environmentalists split from the Green Party. Next Simon linked the residual Greens with socialism, citing "drug reform, that lefty stuff."

It all began to make sense. Simon, in desperation at his party's lack of responsible ideas and its own internecine wars and bullying scandals, moved rightward to emulate Nixon, spinning a web that entraps by divisiveness. That explains his absurd claim that legalisation of cannabis is of no benefit to Maori. And his trying to pull apart the Greens with a trumped-up offer of an environmentalist National Party, an oxymoron.

It would take a far better actor than Simon Bridges to pull off the Nixon/Trump divide and conquer routine. Fortunately, with the coming referendum, that dream — or nightmare — will go up in smoke.

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.