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In 1900 there were more people addicted to drugs in this country than there are today. Charles Whitebread said in a speech at the California Judges Association 1995 annual conference that there were between two and five percent of the entire adult population of the United States addicted to drugs in 1900.
There were two principal causes of this dramatic level of drug addiction at the turn of the century. The first cause was the use of morphine and its various derivatives in legitimate medical operations. As late as 1900 particularly in areas where medical resources were scarce it was common. If you had appendicitis, you would go into the hospital, and you would get morphine as a pain killer during the operation. You would be given morphine further after the operation, and you would come out of the hospital with no appendix but addicted to morphine.
The use of morphine in battlefield operations during the Civil War was so extensive that by 1880, so many Union veterans were addicted to morphine that the popular press called morphinism the “soldiers’ disease.” The Confederate veterans didn’t have any problems with morphine though, because the South was too poor to have any. Therefore, battlefield operations on the Confederate Army were simply done by chopping off the wounded limb while they drank a little whiskey. However, the Northern troops heavily found themselves, as the result of battlefield operations and the use of morphine, addicted to the drug.
Another strange thing about drug addiction at the turn of the century is who the addicts were. They were the exact opposites of whom one would think most likely to be an addict today. In terms of statistical groups the person who is most likely to be involved with drugs today would be a young male, who lives in the city and may be a minority group member. That is the exact opposite of who was most likely to be addicted to drugs at the turn of the century. In the early 1900’s, the person who was most likely to be a drug addict was a rural living, middle-aged white woman. The use of morphine in medical operations does not explain the much higher occurrence of drug addiction among women. What does, is the second cause of the high level of addiction at the turn of the century – the growth and development of what we now call the “patent medicine” industry. As late as 1900, in rural areas where medical resources were scarce, it was typical for itinerant salesmen to cruise around the countryside offering potions and elixirs of all kinds advertised in the most flashy kinds of terms, such as “Doctor Smith’s Oil, Good for What Ails You,” or “Doctor Smith’s Oil, Good for Man or Beast.” What the peddlers of these medicines did not tell their buyers was that later, when these patent medicines were tested, many of them proved to be up to 50% morphine by volume. One of the most significant things about the high morphine content in patent medicines was it meant they tended to live up to their advertising. No matter what is wrong with you or your beast, you are going to feel a whole lot better after a couple of drinks of an elixir that is 50% morphine. So people thought that it really worked. You could then go to the general store and buy more of it directly over the counter.
People became involved with drugs they did not know that they were taking, that they did not know the impact of. There was more drug addiction than there is now because most of it was accidental. The main law that reduced drug addiction the most was the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 did three things. It created the Food and Drug Administration in Washington that must approve all foods and drugs meant for human consumption. The first impact of that was that the patent medicines were not approved for human consumption once they were tested. The second thing the Pure Food and Drug Act did was, it said that certain drugs could only be sold on prescription. The last thing it did was require that any drug that can be potentially habit-forming say so on its label. The labeling requirements, the prescription requirements, and the refusal to approve the patent medicines basically put the patent medicine business out of business and reduced the source of accidental addiction. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, not a criminal law, did more to reduce the level of addiction than any other single statute we have passed in all of the times from then to now.
The very first criminal law at the Federal level in this country to criminalize the non-medical use of drugs came in 1914. It was called the Harrison Act. There were three very interesting things about this act. The entire experiment of using the criminal sanction to deal with the non-medical use of drugs really began in this country in 1914 with the Harrison Act. The second interesting thing about the Harrison Act was the drugs to which it applied, because it applied to almost none of the drugs we would be concerned about today. There was no mention anywhere of amphetamines, barbiturates, marijuana, hashish, or hallucinogenic drugs of any kind. The Harrison Act only applied to opium, morphine and its various derivatives and derivatives of the coca leaf like cocaine. The third thing was called the Harrison Tax Act. The drafters of the Harrison Act had two goals. They wanted to regulate the medical use of these drugs and to criminalize the non-medical use of these drugs. They had one problem. 1914 was the high water mark of the constitutional doctrine we today call “states’ rights” and, therefore, it was widely thought Congress did not have the power to regulate a particular profession or the power to pass what was, and is still known, as a general criminal law. That’s why there were so few Federal Crimes until very recently.
In the face of possible Constitutional opposition to what they wanted to do, the people in Congress who supported the Harrison Act came up with a novel idea. They would disguise this whole thing as a tax. There were two taxes. The first tax was paid by doctors. It was so much per year. The doctors, in exchange for paying that tax, got a stamp from the Government that allowed them to prescribe these drugs for their patients so long as they followed the regulations in the statute. The second was a tax of so much of every single non-medical exchange of every one of these drugs. Since nobody was going to pay a tax to exchange something which, in 1914, even in large quantities was worth about five dollars. The second tax wasn’t a tax either. It was a criminal prohibition. If in 1915, somebody was found in possession of an ounce of cocaine on the street, what would be the Federal crime? Not possession of cocaine, or possession of a controlled substance. The crime was tax evasion.
The alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s was supported by many people who weren’t opposed to drinking. The reason they supported it was because of political affiliation. It was also in part a response to the drinking practices of European immigrants, who became the new lower class. The reason it failed after just thirteen years was because it came back on the people who favored it, so they got rid of it. Marijuana was widely used at this time because people couldn’t get alcohol.
Between 1915 and 1937, 27 states passed criminal laws against the use of marijuana. These states were divided into three groups. The first group of states to have marijuana laws in that part of the century were the Rocky Mountain and southwestern states; Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana. In the period just after 1914, into all of those areas was a large migration of Mexicans. They had come across the border in search of better economic conditions. They worked heavily as rural laborers, beet field workers, and cotton pickers, and with them, they brought marijuana. Many of the white people in these states knew little about marijuana, and thought it made you crazy. So, the main reason for the early state marijuana laws in the Rocky Mountain and southwestern areas of this country wasn’t hostility to the drug. It was hostility to the newly arrived Mexican community that used it.
A second group of states that had criminal laws against the use of marijuana was in the Northeast; Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York (had one and then repealed it and then had one again), and New Jersey. No theory about Mexican immigration will explain the origin of those laws because, the Northeast has never had any substantial Mexican-American population. They outlawed it before it got there. They didn’t want it to replace the newly illegal narcotics and alcohol. 26 out of the 27 states outlawed it because of the fear of substitution or the anger against the Mexican-Americans. The last state left was Utah. Utah didn’t have many Mexican-Americans. It was the Mormons. Many Mormons in colonies in northwest Mexico moved back to Utah, and with them they brought Marijuana. Using any euphoric drug was against their religion, so when the church wanted it banned, the state made it so.
National Marijuana prohibition, however didn’t take effect until 1937. They made it illegal because number one, it was not thought to be safe, physically or mentally to use, and number two, we didn’t need to grow it here because it was cheaper to import it. Even though the medical field said marijuana could be useful, the bill to make it illegal still passed. In 1942 however, the U.S. was cut off from hemp supplies in the far east and it had to be grown in the states again for the war effort.
The national marijuana prohibition was not even debated in the house of representatives. In fact, they hardly knew what it was. It was just passed on what they had heard. There was no debate and the vote wasn’t even recorded. It was passed, sent on to President Roosevelt, then made law.
After the passage of the prohibition, commissioner Anslinger held a conference of all the people who knew something about Marijuana. There ended up being one person, a pharmacologist from Temple University. As a result of this conference, Commissioner Anslinger named the pharmacologist the Official Expert of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics about marijuana.
After national marijuana prohibition was passed, Commissioner Anslinger found out that certain people were violating the national marijuana prohibition and using marijuana. Unfortunately for them, they fell into an identifiable occupational group, jazz musicians. So, in 1947, Commissioner Anslinger sent out a letter stating that there would be a national round-up arrest of all such persons in a single day, and that he would tell them when the day came. That letter went out in October of 1947, and there wasn’t a single resident agent who didn’t have reservations about this idea. Anslinger said he needed more agents, and when they asked him why, he said because people were smoking marijuana. They asked him who was and he said musicians. He then went on to say that he didn’t mean good musicians. He meant jazz musicians. He was then consequently slammed by just about every newspaper in the country, and then some. After this happened, nothing else was said about his national roundup. In this time period, if someone was to commit a crime and wanted to get off easily, all they had to say was they used marijuana and it made them crazy. The reason for this is because the government said it made you crazy.
The Boggs act of 1951 was very important because, it quadrupled penalties in every offense category. What brought this around was the cold war. People thought that foreign communists were using drugs to manipulate the minds of the young people of our country. Another thing that happened with marijuana in the early fifties was that it was the first time it was lumped together with other drugs and not treated differently. People also found out that marijuana wasn’t physically addicting, nor did it make you insane.
The Daniel Act of 1956 was yet another law which made the penalties of all categories of drug related crimes even greater, by eight. It was brought about because of organized crime. The population found out that there was organized crime in America and they made their money selling drugs. Along with state laws, this made penalties for drug possession greater than those for rape or murder.
The Dangerous Substance Act of 1969 however didn’t increase penalties. It decreased them. It also classified drugs into two categories, its medical use and its potential for abuse. This started the War on Drugs. This “War on Drugs”, many people now believe, was partly truth and partly blatant lies and propaganda. Some people say that it didn’t tell people about the therapeutic effects of Cannabis and other drugs. It just told everyone that drugs were bad, that they killed and to stay away from them.
Another thing that was started in the 1960’s was the “Hippie Revolution”. It was a counterculture populated by young people then known as the hippies. It arose in the United States as a whole new movement opposed to the Vietnam War. These young people engaged in various activities of revolt including the use of drugs, participating in student protests, and riots or demonstrations. The atmosphere of this era was directly related to the United States involvement in Vietnam. Many hippies used and sold drugs. Young people used drugs mainly to say that they were not part of the system which had been created. The drugs used included, but were not limited to, LSD, marijuana, hashish, mescaline, and peyote. Sedatives and stimulants were also abused. A large number of veterans returned from Vietnam wanting marijuana and other drugs. Hippies were strong supporters of legalized use of psychedelic drugs. In 1966, LSD was banned. This didn’t affect only the hippies. It also affected the scientists and doctors researching the drug. They couldn’t even use them in experiments. It had already been shown that LSD and other psychedelic drugs had uses other than to get you high. It was used to treat alcoholism and many personality disorders. From 1980 to 1992, under Presidents Reagan and Bush, the federal government mounted a strong offensive against drugs. In this war, the government was winning the battle. Since 1993 however, America has pretty much abandoned the drug war. Many Americans still want tough drug policies though. The government just needs to be able to enforce them. Between the early seventies and 1992, much of the nations drug use was on the decline. In 1993, however, it was on the rise again. It seems even though people are being told more and more about the evils of drugs, they aren’t listening. They just keep on using.
Drugs In Our School
In a recent survey taken of the junior class at Bloomfield High School, some very interesting things were found out. This survey was conducted in the U.S. History class, and 87 people responded. Out of those 87, sixteen students have never even tried drugs. That’s eighteen percent. One third of our class have used Marijuana, and two thirds have used tobacco. 75% have tried alcohol. Sadly to say, these numbers were not at all surprising to me. Seventeen percent have abused prescription drugs, and twenty percent have abused over-the-counter drugs. Peyote, heroin, and cocaine all had low numbers, but I was surprised that these had been used in Bloomfield at all. Peyote was three percent and the latter two were both at one percent. Nine percent of our class population have tried other drugs, including some household products, XTC (a heroin based euphoric drug), opium, and LSD. This survey taught me a lot about the recreational habits of my classmates. I can’t even imagine what the results would have been at a larger school.
In conclusion, I think that many of the drug laws are needed. I think, though, that in some cases, the courts need to lighten up a little. We are filling our jails up with drug offenders then, when someone really commits a crime, such as rape or murder, there is “no room at the inn.” Drug offenders should be punished severely with fines, community service, drug rehabilitation programs, and probation. These things may cost our taxpayers money, but at least we won’t have to pay to keep them in jail, with free room and board, while other criminals roam our streets free.
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