History of Drug Laws and Law Enforcement

Topics: Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, Opium, Prohibition in the United States Pages: 5 (1637 words) Published: April 17, 2006
Drug Laws and Drug Law Enforcement

Since the late 19th century, the federal and states governments of the United States have enacted laws and policies to deter the use and distribution of illegal drugs. These laws and policies have not only deemed what drugs are legal and illegal, but have also established penalties for the possession and distribution of these substances and established federal agencies to control drug use and administer drug law enforcement. This essay will not only examine the landmark drug laws and policies established by the federal and state governments, but also the enforcement of drug laws.

Brief History of the United States' Drug Laws

The first American law that prohibited the use of a specific drug was an 1875 ordinance passed by the city of San Francisco which banned the smoking of opium in opium dens (4). This law, however, was not passed to stop the use and sale of opium. The ordinance was passed because of widespread fear that Chinese men were luring white men and women to their moral "ruin" in opium dens ("The History of"). White San Franciscan's also feared that Chinese immigrants and railroad workers were seducing white women with the drug. With the passing of the San Francisco ordinance, other opium laws were passed throughout the country, specifically an 1888 Federal law that prohibited the involvement of the Chinese in the opium trade and restricted the smoking of opium ("The History of"). The law restricting cocaine was also racially motivated. Prior to the early 20th century, cocaine was readily available at drugs stores for the public's use. Cocaine was also a major ingredient in the popular soft-drink, Coca-Cola. With cocaine use and addiction becoming widespread, the media used the public's addiction to fuel racial tensions. Many publications began printing articles contributing attacks on white women to the widespread cocaine use among black men ("Cocaine"). These fabrications concerning cocaine steadily became more and more extreme. In fact, many Southern police forces began carrying more powerful weapons because smaller guns were rumored to be unable to kill a black man high on cocaine ("Prohibition (drugs)"). This widespread moral panic eventually led to the adoption of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the Harrison Act of 1914. The Pure Food and Drug Act required that manufacturers must list the amounts of all habit-forming substances contained in products. The Harrison Act initially was set up to force regulation of cocaine and opiates. Sellers of these drugs were forced to obtain a license and create paper trails of the transactions between doctors, pharmacies, and patients ("Prohibition (drugs)"). In 1917, the Harrison Act was re-interpreted and banned the prescription of opiates to addicts, because of addiction not considered a disease. Many doctors knowingly violated this re-interpretation and, as a result, numerous doctors were arrested. In 1924, the Harrison Act was tightened even further and banned the importation of heroin for any purpose ("Harrison"). Possibly the most infamous of drug laws, the prohibition of alcohol in the United States had a profound effect on the country. Prohibition was accomplished by the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution and the Volstead Act of 1919 and banned the manufacturing, transportation, sale, and consumption of any and all spirituous beverages. The only alcohol available for sale and distribution would be alcohol used for religious ceremonies or "medicinal" alcohol such as whisky ("Prohibition"). Prohibition was the first drug law to be met with widespread public backlash. Many people began brewing homemade alcohol such as "bathtub gin" and "moonshine." Underground drinking establishments known as "speakeasies" were numerous in almost every major American city. With the public's large demand for illegal alcohol, organized crime leaders saw an opportunity to turn a large profit in the smuggling of alcohol or...

Bibliography: Senna, Joseph J., and Siegal Larry J. . Criminal Justice. United States: Wadsworth,
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The History of Drug Laws. 2006. The Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. 18 March 2006
Cocaine. 2006. Wikipedia. 18 March 2006
Controlled Substances Act. 2006. Wikipedia. 19 March 2006
Drug Enforcement Adminsitration. 2006. Wikipedia. 19 March 2006
Eliot Ness. 2006. Wikipedia. 20 March 2006
Harrison Narcotics Act. 2006. Wikipedia. 19 March 2006
Prohibition. 2006. Wikipedia. 19 March 2006
Prohibition (drugs). 2006. Wikipedia. 18 March 2006
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