Drug policy from 1870 #110; 1970

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 25, 2002

This is the fourth story in a 13-week series on drug addiction in South Central Alabama.

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Americans did not realize what substances were in elixirs they were taking for ailments. Unlike today, there were no policies that banned medications or listed the ingredients from the market.

Because of the unknown substances that were in many drugs, Americans felt they needed some guidance and turned to the federal government for restrictions and policies.

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Clifford A. Schaffer, director of DRCNet Online Library of Drug Policy wrote, "The first major regulatory law was the Pure Food and Drug Act (PFDA) of 1906, (for which) there was widespread public support.

"The PFDA required that contents of foods and drugs must be listed on the label, that advertising statements must be true, and that the Food and Drug Administration be established to oversee the law," Schaffer wrote. "After it was passed, drug addiction dropped dramatically, primarily because people finally found out what they were taking. However, it did not make drug possession a crime."

In only one instance prior to the 1906 law was a drug made illegal. "Opium smoking was first outlawed in San Francisco in the 1870s because of the fear that Chinese men were luring white women to have sex in opium dens. They did not outlaw other forms of opium use

only those peculiar to the Chinese community. The first federal opium law forbade trading in opium by Chinese but not by whites," Schaffer said.

The Harrison Narcotic Act also put further restrictions on opiates. This act also sparked one of the first battles between the medical community and the government, said Charlie Cook, a professor at the University of North Carolina.

Besides the opiates, Schaffer added that cocaine also was a target of the act, and that caffeine was almost included.

In the 1920s and 1930s, more laws were passed including the Volstead Act of 1919, which was passed by Congress and later became the Alcohol Prohibition Act of 1920, which was repealed in 1930. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which authorized producers, manufacturers, importers and distributors to obtain a license and pay a tax also was among the early laws.

In 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (Controlled Substances Act) was passed, which established penalties for the possession, manufacturing and distribution of controlled substances.

"Federal funding was increased to help community health centers and hospitals to treat individuals with drug abuse problems.

Control of drugs was moved from the Treasury Department to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and therefore, drugs were regulated directly rather than through taxes. The act also called for the scheduling of drugs which were ranked according to their medicinal use and liability of abuse and their likelihood of producing dependence," said Cook.

"The drug prohibition laws were not the result of a reasoned response to a

real problem. Every major study of the drug laws in the last 100 years has

found that the laws were the product of racism, ignorance, and nonsense, and

they just do more harm than good," Schaffer concluded.

The first 100 years of drug policy and laws set a tone for future policy. However, it has been in recent years that policy, along with treatment, has become prevalent.