Legalization of Drugs
HISTORY OF GOVERNMENT REGULATION OF DRUGS
During the nineteenth century, drug possession and sale were virtually unregulated in the United States. The limited range of available psychoactive substances could be purchased without prescription from physicians, grocers, general stores, pharmacies, and by mail from catalogues. Patent medicines-sold and used indiscriminately as panaceas for every medical and psychiatric ailment known to humanity-frequently contained opium, morphine, or cocaine. In addition, many beverages contained cocaine. Because advertising was totally unregulated, some people made outrageous claims about the effects of their products. Labels on medicines and other products could be similarly creative, because there was no law requiring that labels list ingredients. In short, nineteenth-century America was truly a "dope-fiend's paradise" (Brecher and colleagues 1972: 3). Experts estimate that at the turn of the nineteenth century, there were roughly half a million narcotic addicts in the United States, which converts, on a per-population basis, to four times the current figure (Musto, 1999; Inciardi, 1992). During the first decade of the twentieth century, America's laissez faire approach to drugs began to change. In 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which outlawed the interstate sale of substances that were adulterated or whose contents were mislabeled. That same year, China launched an antiopium campaign. To ensure uninterrupted trade with that country, the U. S. government banned the importation of all opium into the United States. In 1912, Congress amended the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 by extending its provisions to false and fraudulent advertising claims. Also in that same year, twelve countries, including the United States, signed the Hague Convention, an agreement to restrict opium and cocaine production
In December 1914, Congress passed the Harrison Act, the model for all subsequent drug legislation. This law required producers, sellers, and distributors of (1) cocaine and (2) opium and its derivatives, including morphine and heroin, to register with the Treasury Department and, thereafter, to pay taxes on the transactions. In 1919, the Supreme Court found that the Harrison Act prohibited doctors and pharmacists from supplying addicts with maintenance doses of narcotics. In the decade after the passage of the Harrison Act, approximately 30,000 physicians were arrested for supplying narcotics to addicts. Approximately 10 percent of the arrested physicians were imprisoned for this crime. At the behest of Internal Revenue agents, municipal and state officials set up clinics around the country in fifty cities to treat and/or maintain narcotic addicts. Either because of widespread abuses and the clinics' self-admitted failure to treat addicts, or as a result of pressure from the Treasury Department, by 1923, every one of these clinics...