The History of America’s War On Drugs

classic Classic list List threaded Threaded
1 message Options
Reply | Threaded
Open this post in threaded view

The History of America’s War On Drugs


By Trevor McDonald

Did you know that heroin used to be sold over-the-counter?

Did you know that heroin used to be sold over-the-counter?

America’s war on drugs began sometime after we stiffened our laws on opiates. This is a war we’ve been fighting for nearly a century. Given the span of time we’ve been at this, you might expect some significant progress. You’d be wrong.

The following timeline explains the up-and-down ride we’ve taken to fight illegal drugs in this country.

1800s – After the Civil War, opium was all the rage. Then came cocaine. Morphine was the choice prescription painkiller. Heroin was used to treat respiratory illnesses, and Coca-Cola actually contained cocaine. Drugs were easily accessible, and people were getting addicted. It became very clear that the free-for-all approach wasn’t working. These drugs needed to be regulated.

1906 – The Pure Food and Drug Act called for accurate labeling on all prescription medications.

1914 – The country’s first federal drug policy was passed. The Harrison Narcotics Act restricted manufacturing and sales of cocaine, heroin, morphine, and marijuana.

1919 – The Supreme Court ruled against treating addicts with maintenance doses of addictive substances in Webb et al. v. United States.

1930 – Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed and headed by Harry J. Anslinger. This bureau focused heavily on sources of supply.

1937 – The Marijuana Tax Act was passed to prohibit the unlicensed sale of marijuana.

1951 – The Boggs Act set 2-year minimum sentences with a 5-year maximum for first offenders. With this act, there were no distinctions between consumers and traffickers. There was also no distinction between drugs like marijuana and heroin. Everyone was subject to the same punishment.

1956 – The Narcotics Control Act increased sentences for drug traffickers to a 5-year minimum on the first offense and a 10-year minimum on all subsequent offenses.

1960s – Possibly in response to strict drug laws, the 60s brought a rebellious drug-fueled movement. Hallucinogens like LSD became more popular and drug demand went through the roof.

1966 – The Narcotics Addict Rehabilitation Act specified narcotic addiction as a mental illness. This was the first time drug addiction was treated similar to alcoholism.

1971 – President Richard Nixon declared the first official war on drugs and the government funded a methadone maintenance program for recovering addicts.

1973 – The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was created. Operation Intercept was one of their missions, which put pressure on Mexico to regulate marijuana farmers. Also in this year, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession.

1977 – President Carter proposed more lenient laws against marijuana use.

1982 – Nancy Reagan started the infamous “Just Say No” campaign to discourage kids from buying drugs. In this year, Ronald Reagan declared drugs as a threat to national security.

1984 – By this time, cocaine demand had grown about 700 percent in just six years. Marijuana was believed to be a gateway drug to cocaine, so the government moved away from decriminalizing marijuana.

1986 – The Anti-Drug Abuse Act established first-time mandatory minimum sentences that were triggered by the drug quantities they had in possession. The act also established tougher sentences for crack cocaine than powder cocaine.

1988 – The Anti-Drug Abuse Act passed in this year enforced even stricter punishments for people convicted of drug offenses. This act also eliminates federal benefits for offenders and introduces the use of death penalty for severe drug-related crimes.

1994 – Bill Clinton nearly doubled spending for rehab and prevention services, and he also increased eradication and law enforcement programs.

1996 – California votes to legalize medical marijuana. This was also the year the now popularly-abused painkiller OxyContin began being manufactured.

2001 – Joint Commission rolled out Pain Management Standards, which reinforced the idea that pain is the 5th vital sign. This fueled a surge in opioid painkiller prescriptions.

2016 – Life expectancy dropped two years in a row thanks to a surge in fatal overdoses.

2017 – President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency to address the overwhelming addiction epidemic.