Guest Author - Susan Hubenthal
In 1914, the first Federal criminal law was enacted, and is called the Harrison Act. It was made into law to criminalize the non-medical use of drugs. It was an experiment of using the criminal sanction to deal with non-medical drug use.
The Act applied to only a handful of the drugs we consider to be a danger. The Act applied to opium, morphine and its derivatives, coca leaves, (cocaine)and its derivatives. Surprisingly, amphetamines, barbiturates, marijuana, hashish, hallucinogenics were NOT mentioned.
The Harrison Tax Act, was based and built upon this law, and every piece of Federal legislation from 1914 to 1969. The authors of this bill told congress they wanted to regulate the medical use of these drugs and to criminalize use of non-medical drugs. They wanted to legislate this as if it were a tax.
There were two taxes. One was a tax to be paid by doctors at one dollar per year, and the doctors who would pay the tax, were able to legally prescribe these drugs from the Government as long as they followed the regulations of the statute. Thus, making the doctors follow the regulations.
The second tax was a thousand dollars for every non-medical exchange of these drugs. Nobody wanted to pay the thousand dollars in tax to exchange something which, in 1914, was worth about five dollars. It wasn’t really a tax anyway, it was criminal prohibition. In other words, if someone were to be arrested with an ounce or two of cocaine, what would the Federal crime be? Not possession, but Tax evasion.
Because of the Harrison Act in 1918 opium and other narcotics were being used by an estimated million people. The black market traffic was nearly equal to the legal medical traffic. Drug dealers had now established a national organization, while smuggling drugs from other countries, including Canada and Mexico. There was an increase of addicts moving into larger cities where black markets were becoming richer.
The 1924, heroin ban did nothing to stop the addicts. They simply eased into morphine abuse.
If one believes that government regulation can bring an end to the dreadful drug war, you are not alone. Sadly, not much has changed since 1914, but there are organizations taking steps to find ways to change drug laws to make our children safer from black market drugs, drug dealers, and under regulation, make it more difficult to buy street drugs.