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Drug Law Timeline

Significant Events in the History of our Drug Laws

This page provided thanks to Robert Keel, University of Missouri at Saint Louis

Originally prepared for his Soc. 180 class

Year Event
1600s Colonial laws required farmers to grow hemp because it was used for ropes and sails on ships. A good hemp industry was important to the shipping industry.
1700s Hemp was the primary crop grown by George Washington at Mount Vernon, and a secondary crop grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.
1844 Cocaine was synthesized
1845 A law prohibiting the public sale of liquor is enacted in New York State. It is repealed in 1847.
1847 The American Medical Association is founded.
1860s Opiates see widespread use as a pain killer for injured soldiers during the Civil War. Opiates were the first real miracle drugs because they allowed the patient to be anesthetized while the doctor performed surgery. Before the advent of opiates, the most common surgery was a simple amputation. That is, the doctor got several big strong people to hold the patient down and then literally sawed off an arm or a leg while the patient screamed in pain. For this reason, a good doctor was a fast doctor. Battlefield hospitals during the Civil War commonly had large piles of severed arms and legs. The use of opiates as anesthesia gave doctors time to work on the patient and actually made modern surgery possible.
1869 The Prohibition Party is formed. Gerrit Smith, twice Abolitionist candidate for President, an associate of John Brown, and a crusading prohibitionist, declares: "Our involuntary slaves are set free, but our millions of voluntary slaves still clang their chains. The lot of the literal slave, of him whom others have enslaved, is indeed a hard one; nevertheless, it is a paradise compared with the lot of him who has enslaved himself to alcohol." [Quoted in Sinclar, op. cit. pp. 83-84]
1870s The first laws against opium smoking were passed in San Francisco and Virginia City. Opium itself was not outlawed and remained available in any number of over-the-counter products. Only the smoking of opium was outlawed, because that was a peculiarly Chinese habit and the laws were specifically directed at the Chinese. The white people in the communities feared that Chinese men were luring white women to have sex in opium dens.

The patent medicine industry started its rise. Because there were no restrictions on advertising, labeling, or contents of any products the patent medicine industry made up all sorts of concoctions including the opiates, cocaine, and other drugs, and sold them with the most extravagant advertising claims. This led to a rise in addiction.

Addiction was poorly understood. Morphine and heroin were recommended as remedies for alcohol addiction.

French Wine of Coca: Invigorating Tonic became a popular soft drink because it contained cocaine. It went on to become Coca-Cola and, together with other similar drinks like Pepsi-Cola, made the soda fountain a common part of the neighborhood pharmacy.

1874 The Woman's Christian Temperance Union is founded in Cleveland. In 1883, Frances Willard a leader of the W.C.T.U. forms the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
1882 The law in the United States, and the world, making "temperance education" a part of the required course in public schools is enacted. In 1886, Congress makes such education mandatory in the District of Columbia, and in territorial, military, and naval schools. By 1900, all the states have similar laws. [Crafts et. al., op. cit. p. 72]

The Personal Liberty League of the United States is founded to oppose the increasing momentum of movements for compulsory abstinence from alcohol. [Catlin, op. cit. p. 114]

1884 Sigmund Freud treats his depression with cocaine, and reports feeling "exhilaration and lasting euphoria, which is in no way differs from the normal euphoria of the healthy person. . . You perceive an increase in self-control and possess more vitality and capacity for work. . . . In other words, you are simply more normal, and it is soon hard to believe that you are under the influence of a drug." [Quoted in Ernest Jones, *The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 1, p. 82]

Freud later died of effects of tobacco-induced cancer. He was able to break his addiction to cocaine, but could not break his addiction to cigar smoking even though most of the lower part of his face had been removed by cancer surgery.

Laws are enacted to make anti-alcohol teaching compulsory in public schools in New York State. The following year similar laws are passed in Pennsylvania, with other states soon following suit.

1906 The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, forming the Food and Drug Administration and giving it power to regulate foods and drugs, and requiring labeling of contents on foods and drugs. The most important effect on the drug problem was the demise of the patent medicine industry. Drug addiction began a dramatic drop.
1914 The Harrison Tax Act was passed, effectively outlawing the opiates and cocaine.
1915 Utah passed the first state anti-marijuana law. Mormons who had gone to Mexico in 1910 returned smoking marijuana. It was outlawed at a result of the Utah legislature enacting all Mormon religion prohibitions as criminal laws.
 1922  Narcotic Drug Import and Export Act - Intended to eliminate use of narcotics except for legitimate medicinal use
 1924  Heroin Act -Makes it illegal to manufacture heroin


1937 Marijuana Tax Act

Applies controls over marijuana similar to narcotics

1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act

FDA given control over drug safety, Drugs redefined: effect body even in absence of disease, Establishes class of drugs available by Prescription (Company determines status)

1942 Opium Poppy Control Act

Prohibits growing poppy w/o license

1951 Durham-Humphrey Amendment

Established more specific guidelines for prescription drugs: habit forming, safety, and evaluation of new drugs

1951 Boggs Amendment to the Harrison Narcotic Act

Mandatory sentences for narcotic violations

1956 Narcotics Control Act

Intends to impose even more severe penalties for narcotics violations

1965 Drug Abuse Control Amendments (DACA)

Strict controls over amphetamines, barbiturates, LSD, etc.

1966 Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act (NARA)

Allows treatment as an alternative to jail

1968 DACA Amendments

Provides that sentence may be suspended and record expunged if no further violations within 1 year

1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act

Replaces and updates all previous laws concerning narcotics and other dangerous drugs. Empasis on law enforcement.

1972 Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act

Establishes federally funded programs for prevention and treatment

1973 Methadone Control Act

Regulates methadone licensing

1973 Heroin Trafficking Act

Increases penalties for distribution

1973 Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA)

Consolidates NIMH, NIDA, and NIAAA under umbrella organization

1973 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Remodels Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs into DEA

1974 and 1978 Drug Abuse Treatment and Control Amendments

Extends 1972 act

1978 Alcohol and Drug Abuse Education Amendments

Sets up education programs within Department of Education

1980 Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendments

Extends prevention education and treatment programs

1984 Drug Offenders Act

Sets up special programs for offenders and organizes treatment

1986 Analogue (Designer Drug) Act

Makes use of substances with similar effects and structure to existing illicit drug illegal

1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act

Establishes oversight office: National Drug Control Policy

1992 ADAMHA Reorganization

Transfers NIDA, NIMH, and NIAAA to NIH and incorporates ADAMHA's programs into the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


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