By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Making drugs illegal is a new thing.
It’s roughly 400 years since the Europeans arrived in America. For seventy-five percent of the time since that arrival drugs have been legal. The path from full legality to today’s many restrictions on drugs has been a long and involved one.
In early American history, first the colonial governments, and then the federal government not only allowed drug use but encouraged it. In colonial times, there were laws on the books requiring farmers to grow cannabis (Hemp) on a specific percentage of their land. During the US, Civil War more men died in camp of diseases than died in battle. Officers would routinely hand out opium gum for soldiers to chew. Whiskey was the primary painkiller. With the discovery of morphine, it became common to mix morphine into the whiskey to produce a beverage called laudanum. Between 1860 and 1900 the use of morphine, cocaine and other drugs mixed in alcoholic beverages became commonplace.
Laws regulating drug use are a recent development in American history. Here are some of the more significant drug laws from US history.
The San Francisco Ordinance.
The first notable US drug law was an ordinance passed in San Francisco, California. Interesting to note that while today California takes a more lenient view of drug use, San Francisco is the first place to pass a significant drug regulation ordinance.
The San Francisco Ordinance, passed in 1875, banned the smoking of opium, in an opium den. Opium could still be smoked in private homes and beverages containing opium, or its derivative compound morphine could still be consumed. The main thrust of the ordinance was to try to keep white people, especially young females, from frequenting Chinese opium businesses. This ordinance only applied to the city and County of San Francisco. It would be over thirty years before another law was passed regulating drugs.
The Pure Food and Drug Act.
This law was passed by Congress in 1906. The Pure Food and Drug Act was primarily aimed at controlling opiate addiction. The belief was that by labeling products which contained drugs people would be less likely to consume them. Between the US Civil War and 1906, products containing morphine and cocaine had become extremely popular. Many women consumed tonics containing morphine and babies were often given soothing syrups which contained morphine and alcohol.
The early thinking was that if a parent had a choice between a baby product containing one percent morphine and another containing two percent morphine, the parent would probably choose the product with a lower percentage of drugs. Unfortunately, many parents thought that if one percent morphine stopped the baby from crying and allowed them to sleep, then two percent morphine would be even better.
The Harrison Narcotic Tax Act.
Many laws regulating drugs and alcohol began as taxation. Once you can tax something, you can also regulate its use. Raising taxes has repeatedly been tried in efforts to reduce drug consumption. Besides imposing regulations and taxes on drugs, the Harrison Narcotic Tax Act, passed in 1914, just before World War I, restricted sales of drugs to licensed pharmacies and required a doctor’s prescription.
One provision in the law continues to cause problems. Doctors are not supposed to prescribe drugs to maintain a drug addict’s addiction. Rather than prescribed heroin addicts heroin, or morphine addicts morphine, doctors now switch opiate addicts to methadone an even more addicting drug.
Prohibition was inducted in 1920 with the passage of the eighteenth amendment. At the time, it was described as the Great Experiment. The effects of the Great Experiment continue to be debated. There were widespread efforts to evade the law. The law did not prohibit consumption of alcoholic beverages or home manufacturer of beer and wine. What it did prohibit was the commercial manufacturing, transporting, and sale of alcoholic beverages.
During prohibition, hospital admissions for alcohol-related health problems declined significantly. What didn’t decline during prohibition was illegal activity. Because of the widespread violence and the unpopularity of the law, prohibition was repealed by the twenty-first amendment passed in 1933.
The Controlled Substance Act.
The Controlled Substance Act passed in 1970 created a system of classifying or scheduling drugs which continues to this day. The period since 1970 has seen the passage of many additional laws attempting to regulate drug use. These laws include the law creating the Drug Enforcement Administration, anti-trafficking laws, Analog Act, Anti-Drug Abuse Act, and specific laws providing additional regulation and enforcement activities involving methamphetamine, ecstasy, tobacco smoking, and synthetic drug abuse.
Much of the legal activity in the period from 1970 to today was a part of the well-publicized “War on Drugs.”
That’s a little of the background on drug laws which people who work in the substance abuse treatment and prevention fields are expected to know. In a future post, we should take a closer look at the current system of scheduling drugs and why some of the newer laws have created enforcement problems.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
David Joel Miller MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC.) Mr. Miller provides supervision for beginning counselors and therapists and teaches at the local college in the Substance Abuse Counseling program.
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.