By Danielle Allen for The Washington Post. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In January 1964, the Beatles first broke onto the Billboard chart with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”; by June, Ringo Starr had collapsed from tonsillitis and pharyngitis. In January , the surgeon general announced that scientists had found conclusive evidence linking smoking to cancer and thus launched our highly successful 50-year public- health fight against tobacco. In August, the North Vietnamese fired on a U.S. naval ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which led to the Gulf of Tonkin R esolution and the public phase of the Vietnam War. Alongside an accelerating deployment of conventional troops would come their widespread use of marijuana and heroin.
By 1971, cigarette ads had been banned from radio and television, the surgeon general had called for regulation of tobacco, and cigarette smoking had begun its long decline. T he impact of drug use among troops and returning veterans provoked President Richard M. Nixon to declare a war on drugs.
This was followed, of course, by the 1973 passage of the Rockefeller Drug Laws in New York. These set the model for criminalization and increasing penalties for the country as a whole, especially regarding drugs.