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History Of Drug Use U.S. (Page 3 of 5)


Until the first decade of the twentieth century, tobacco use was usually confined to smoking in pipes and cigars, chewing, and inhaling snuff. Cigarettes as we know them today began to appear in the late nineteenth century, gaining wide popularity some twenty years later.

The new cigarettes were made of a mild, Virginia tobacco; they were smaller, paper-wrapped,and generally more attractive to more people, especially women. People tried them, liked them, adopted the habit. This new fondness, aided by public outcries against the foul cuspidor, helped confirm Americans in the tobacco-smoking habit.

The explosive increase in cigarette smoking after 1910 attributed in part to the public-health campaigns of that era against the chewing of tobacco and its inevitable accompaniment, the cuspidor.

The sputum of tobacco chewers, according to repeated public-health warnings, spreads tuberculosis and perhaps other diseases. Most of those who gave up tobacco chewing no doubt turned instead to cigarette smoking. The ashtray replaced the cuspidor, and lung cancer replaced tuberculosis as the major lung disease (Brecher, 1972).

Anti-cigarette leagues flourished. Patterning their efforts on the anti-saloon leagues then lobbying throughout the country, tobacco prohibitionists had some measure of success. By 1921, the year after alcohol prohibition, 14 states had laws prohibition cigarettes, and 92 anti-cigarette bills were under consideration in 28 more state legislatures (Brecher, 1972).

But people continued to smoke, and the last statewide cigarette prohibition law was repealed in 1927. Only laws concerned with cigarette sales to minors were retained.

Not only did most states prohibit sale of cigarettes to minors, they also set penalties sometimes so severe as to make the whole tobacco prohibition approach a source of ridicule for the decades of the future.

A Florida law made it illegal for anyone under the age of twenty-one to smoke cigarettes. It was also illegal in Florida to provide anyone under 21 with a cigarette, a cigarette wrapper, or a substitute; a twenty-year-old caught in possession of a cigarette could be hauled into court and compelled to testify concerning its source...

In Maine an offer to sell cigarettes to a minor was punishable...In Massachusetts snuff and cigars were forbidden to young people under sixteen; the ban against cigarettes continued until eighteen...In Pennsylvania, a minor who refused to divulge the source of cigarettes or cigarette paper could be fined, imprisoned, or certified to the juvenile court; refusal to serve as an informer against his cigarette supplier also made a child a criminal in South Carolina.

These laws led, of course, to ridicule and contempt on the part of law-defying young people (Brecher, 1972).


The second decade of the twentieth century marked the culmination of alcohol prohibitionist efforts. During the previous two centuries, abstentionists had been gathering supporters, and by 1900, they were a force to be reckoned with.

The Womens Christian Temperance Union, anti-saloon leagues, and allied anti-alcohol crusaders convinced America that her downfall lay in continued use of alcohol.

The Eighteenth or Prohibition Amendment passed both houses of Congress in December 1917, and was ratified by three-fourths of the 48 state legislatures 13 months later. From 1920 until 1933, the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol was prohibited in the United States.

As with tobacco, the opiates, and cocaine, legislation failed to create a general climate of abstention. And where there was a populace of willing consumers, supply was still able to keep pace with demand.

Alcohol remained available during Prohibition. People still got drunk, still became alcoholics, still suffered delirium tremens. Drunken drivers remained a frequent menace on the highways... The courts, jails, hospitals, and mental hospitals were still filled with drunks...

Instead of consuming alcoholic beverages manufactured under the safeguards of state and federal standards ... people now drank rotgut, some of it adulterated, some of it contaminated. The use of methyl alcohol, a poison, because ethyl alcohol was unavailable or too costly, led to blindness and death; ginger jake, 11 an adulterant found in bootleg beverages, produced paralysis and death.

The disreputable saloon was replaced by the even less savory speakeasy. There was a shift from relatively mild light wines and beers to hard liquors--less bulky and therefore less hazardous to manufacture, transport, and sell on the black market. Young people--and especially respectable young women, who rarely got drunk in public before 1920--now staggered out of speakeasies and reeled down the streets.

There were legal closing hours for saloons; the speakeasies stayed open night and day. Organized crime syndicates took control of alcohol distribution, establishing power bases that (it is alleged) still survive. Marihuana, a drug previously little used in the United States, was first popularized during the period of alcohol Prohibition ... and ether was also imbibed (Brecher, 1972).

In spite of vigorous federal efforts to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment, the alcohol prohibition concept proved unenforceable. Americans and their European forebears had been drinking for centuries and were not ready to stop.

The Twentieth Amendment repealing prohibition passed Congress in February 1933. It was ratified by the requisite number of states in less than ten months.

The Twenty-first Amendment returned to individual states the power to retain statewide alcohol prohibition, and made it a federal offense to ship alcoholic beverages into a dry state. But the states, too, had learned how impossible it was to keep citizens from drinking. One by one, each repealed its local anti-alcohol legislation, with Mississippi the last state to surrender--in 1966.

Prohibitionists had little difficulty in finding a new substance to oppose. America had returned alcohol to stores and taverns. So be it. If Americans chose to destroy their bodies and pickle their livers by consuming alcohol--let them. But a new evil had begun to gain popularity during the alcohol prohibition era, and the country had to be protected from this newest path to degradation.


During the years of alcohol prohibition, marihuana use had gained in popularity.

[In New York City] marihuana tea pads were established about 1920. They resembled opium dens or speakeasies except that prices were very low; a man could get high for a quarter on marihuana smoked in the pad, or for even less if he bought the marihuana at the door and took it away to smoke.

Most of the marihuana, it was said, was harvested from supplies growing wild on Staten Island or in New Jersey and other nearby states; marihuana and hashish imported from North Africa were more potent and cost more. These tea pads were tolerated by the city, much as alcohol speakeasies were tolerated. By the 1930s there were said to be 500 of them in New York City alone (Brecher, 1972).

In 1926, two New Orleans newspapers, the item and morning Tribune, published a series of exposes of the marihuana menace. The papers reported that sailors from Cuba and the South American countries were importing large quantities of cannabis into New Orleans, and that marihuana smoking had become widespread, even among children 'The Waif's Home, at this time was reputedly full of children, both white and colored, who had been brought in under the influence of the drug. Marihuana cigarettes could be bought almost as readily as sandwiches' Brecher, 1972.

In 1927, Louisiana passed a law providing for a $500 fine or six months' imprisonment for sale or possession of marihuana. Numerous arrests and a subsequent curbing of imports resulted but, as with alcohol, use continued.

Resourceful Louisiana residents stopped buying retail and started growing their own.

The first large growing crop in the city [New Orleans] was found in 1930 and its value estimated at $35,000 to $50,000 ... One 1936 about 1,200 pounds of bulk weed were seized along with considerable quantities of cigarettes.

On one farm, 5 1/2 tons were destroyed and other farms yielded cultivated areas of about 10 acres ... one resident of the city was found growing 100 large plants in his backyard (Brecher, 1972).

As with alcohol prohibition, the determination of users to continue use of a substance subverted the efforts of law enforcement officials to put a stop to the practice.

However, marihuana prohibitionists continued their campaign.

In 1929, Colorado passed anti-marihuana legislation, likely aimed at curtailing the habits of Mexican laborers who, being imported to work in the state's beet sugar fields, brought cannabis supplies north with them (Brecher, 1972).

The federal government soon adopted an anti-marihuana posture.

On January 1, 1932, the Treasury Department's newly-formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics took over enforcement of federal anti-opiate and anti-cocaine laws.

The fact that the Bureau had no actual legal jurisdiction over marihuana failed to deter Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger from lobbying to include cannabis in future federal legislation. Shortly after Commissioner Anslinger's appointment, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform Drug Laws submitted a draft of a Uniform Anti-Narcotics Act which the Conference suggested for adoption by individual state legislatures.

In actuality, the text of the model law did not mention inclusion of a ban on marihuana, but did offer states an optional supplementary provision restricting traffic in Indian hemp (Brecher, 1972).

By 1937, the District of Columbia and 46 states had adopted some form of legislation against marihuana. In most of those states, marihuana was subject to the same rigorous penalties applicable to morphine, heroin, and cocaine, and was often erroneously designated a narcotic (Brecher, 1972).

Encouraged by the zeal of Anslinger and his colleagues, newspapers and magazines gave marihuana scare stories front page coverage. One horror tale appearing in the July 1937 issue of American Magazine (and co-authored by Commissioner Anslinger and Courtney Ryley Cooper) described this atrocity:

An entire family was murdered by a youthful [marihuana] addict in Florida. When officers arrived at the home they found the youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse. With an ax he had killed his father, mother, two brothers, and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze ... He had no recollection of having committed the multiple crime.

The officers knew him ordinarily as a sane, rather quiet young man; now he was pitifully crazed. They sought the reason. The boy said he had been in the habit of smoking something with youthful friends called 'muggles,' a childish name for marihuana (Brecher, 1972).

Commissioner Anslinger was not satisfied. Reacting in large part to his vigorous lobbying efforts, Treasury Department officials submitted to Congress a proposal which was eventually passed as the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

The Act did not actually ban marihuana but, like the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914, did recognize the potential medical uses of the substance, while imposing a tax on those involved in distribution. members of the medical community, including physicians, dentists, veterinarians, were required to pay a licensing fee of $1.00 per year, which granted them the right to prescribe cannabis to patients.

Druggists dispensing the substance would pay a $15.00 annual licensing fee, with marihuana growers taxed at $25.00 per year, and importers, manufacturers, and compounders required to pay $50.00 annually to continue in business. Only nonmedical and untaxed sale or possession of the substance was made illicit.

At this time, the only patent medicine use for cannabis was in preparations of corn plasters or corn removers. In general, manufacturers elected not to register under the tax, and stopped including the substance in their formulae.

Scare Tactics And Tighter Laws

At the same time the Marihuana Tax Law was passed, Congress also approved a schedule of increased penalties for second, third, and subsequent offenses against existing narcotic laws. Penalties to previous offenders for selling, importing, or exporting narcotics were a maximum of 20 years in prison or $10,000 in fines (Levine, 1974).

In 1939, the federal government again tightened restrictions via a vehicle seizure law, which provided for confiscation of any vehicles used to transport illicit drugs in violation of federal laws.


Narcotic prohibition was on the rise and cannabis was included with the opiates and cocaine in anti-substance legislation.

Since 1937, restrictive legislation on marihuana has increased in quantity and severity. Most state marihuana laws specified that marihuana penalties should be the same as heroin penalties. Thus, as heroin penalties were escalated through the decades, marihuana penalties rose automatically.

Nineteen states, moreover, made no distinction between mere possession of one marihuana cigarette and the sale of large quantities of heroin. Under both federal law and the laws of many states ... the giving or furnishing of a narcotic drug or of marihuana was included in the definition of sale (Brecher, 1972).

State legislatures did not take lightly the threat of multiple ax murders by crazed marihuana smokers. Evils of the opiates had been publicized widely. Physicians and laymen alike warned the public of the curse of addiction. Marihuana was less well known than the opiates, but that didn't mean it was less deadly. The states were taking no chances.

As Recently As 1970, These Penalties Were In Force:

In Georgia, sale of marihuana to a minor was punishable by life imprisonment, even if it was a first offense... A second such offense was punishable by death...

In Illinois, the penalty for a first-sale offense was not less than ten years and as much as life. A mandatory life sentence was in effect for a second-sale offense. These penalties remained in effect after a 1968 amendment to the law reduced the penalties for possession of-small amounts.

In Louisiana, anyone over twenty-one years of age possession marihuana was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years at hard labor for a first offense ... An adult selling marihuana to another adult was subject to a minimum mandatory sentence of ten years at hard labor and a maximum sentence of thirty years at hard labor and could draw a death sentence. No suspended sentence or probation was permitted for any sale offenses or for second-possession offenses.

In Massachusetts, it was a felony punishable by not more than five years in prison to be in a place where marihuana was kept or deposited, or to be in the company of anyone known to be in illegal possession of marihuana.

In Missouri, the judge could hand down a life sentence for a second-possession offense or a first-sale offense ...If the buyer were a minor, a death sentence was possible for a first-sale offense...

In Utah a life sentence was possible for a first marihuana sale offense or for a second possession-with-intent-tosell offense (Brecher, 1972).

The federal government, too, was determined to protect citizens from recreational use of the hemp plant.

In 1951, fixed mandatory minimum sentences were established for all marihuana (now classified with the narcotics) offenses. In 1956, mandatory federal penalty minimums were raised: At least two years for first-term possession; five years for second offense possession (with no parole, probation, suspended sentence possible); five years, minimum, for first offense sale; and ten years for second sale offense. Under this law, penalties were identical with respect to marihuana and opiates.

Controlling The Opiates

The 1956 Narcotic Control Act was not restricted to marihuana controls. It also augmented previous regulations regarding the opiates.

In 1942, a federal opium poppy control act had required a license for anyone growing opium poppies within the United States, and a 1944 synthetic opiates law had included isonipecaine (Demerol(D) under previous classifications and definitions of narcotic drugs.

In 1946, legislation controlling other synthetic drugs went into effect. This defined a new comprehensive class of drugs, the to opiates, which has since been expanded to deal with a number of synthetic substances, including methadone, under narcotic control laws.

For purposes of this particular act, opiates were defined as any drugs found by the Secretary of the Treasury, after due notice and opportunity for public hearings, to have an addiction-forming or addiction-sustaining liability similar to morphine or cocaine.

In addition to the mandatory minimum marihuana/narcotic penalties discussed previously, the 1956 Narcotic Control Act also placed travel restrictions on narcotic addicts.

Anyone convicted of violating a state or federal law related to marihuana or narcotics, for which the penalty was more than one year's imprisonment, could neither leave from nor enter the United States unless he registered with U.S. Customs.

The act also provided for surrender of all existing heroin to the federal government (actual import of opium for heroin manufacturing had been banned in 1924), irrespective of whether that heroin had been manufactured prior to 1924.

With the 1956 Narcotic Control Act in force, prohibitionists should have been able to rest. But again Americans were finding new drugs to use and to domesticate. While the abolitionists had been warring against opium derivatives, alcohol, marihuana, and synthetic opiates, other members of the culture were adopting new, licit substances to take the place of those that were being made illicit.

Barbiturates And Amphetamines

Gradually, barbiturates and amphetamines became a part of American life.

During the nineteenth century, opiates had been used frequently for their sedative benefits. However, these were soon found to be addictive and physicians often prescribed bromide salts as an alternative.

Bromides, however, never gained great popularity, largely due to the risk of chronic bromide poisoning. Until the first years of the twentieth century, physicians continued to prescribe alcohol (against all threats from temperance unions) as the most common sedative (Brecher, 1972).


In 1903, barbital, a derivative of barbituric acid, came into medical use as a tranquilizer and sedative. Trade name for the product was Veronal, nine years later, Luminal (phenobarbital) came on the market. Apparently, a great many Americans had trouble sleeping. Demand for the new sedatives increased with alarming speed, and the laboratories were hard pressed to make supply meet demand.

More than 2,500 other barbiturates were subsequently synthesized, and some 50 of them were accepted for medical use--as sedatives, as sleeping pills, and for other purposes. Long-acting barbiturates were developed for daytime sedation; short-acting barbiturates followed for prompt sedation and for inducing sleep without delay ... (Brecher, 1972).

As with substances before them, the barbiturates were subject to increasing non-medical abuse. In 1942, a magazine called Hygeia (later re-named Today's Health), published by the American Medical Association, ran the first article warning against use of barbiturates except by people under a physician's care. ' That article, titled 1,250,000,000 Doses a Year, was followed by a 1945 Hygeia feature called Waco Was a Barbiturate Hotspot. Collier's followed with it's April,1949.,article, Thrill Pills Can Ruin You.

The scare was on. Barbiturates, once represented as medically safe sedative/tranquilizers, had become thrill pills.

Sleeping pills had a new image. They were a new high, a new drunk--and the scare was on. Agents of the United States Food and Drug Administration worked to cut down available supplies of non-prescription barbiturates.

States passed laws. Citizens were arrested. Headlines ensued. And a black market developed. Warnings and scare tactics had literally created the thrill pill reputation and the American public was firmly convinced it could become more than calm by taking barbiturates.

One medical result of the barbiturate panic was a trend toward prescribing non barbiturate sedatives and sleeping pills in increasing quantities. Too, the minor tranquilizers came to be used with greater frequency.

The first of these was meprobamate (marketed as Miltown(S)) and followed by chlordiazepoxide (Librium and diazepam. The minor tranquilizers, particularly, have since gained a reputation as substances of common use and physicians prescribe them for everything from pre-vacation jitters to post-auto accident muscle spasms.


Amphetamines were first synthesized in 1887, but little use for them was found until 1927, when laboratory experiments discovered their usefulness in raising blood pressure and stimulating the central nervous system. During the later part of the 1930s, amphetamines were used to treat both narcolepsy and, curiously, hyperactive children.

During World War II, army physicians issued amphetamines to American, British, German, and Japanese armed forces for alleviation of battle fatigue (as cocaine had earlier been used for Bavarian soldiers). Following the war, physicians routinely prescribed amphetamines for depression.

During the Korean War era, the earliest intravenous use of amphetamines by United States servicemen was reported. Some soldiers stationed in Korea and Japan during the early 1950s had the habit of mixing heroin with amphetamine and injecting the combination (Brecher, 1972).

(This was a variation of the traditional speedball, which combined heroin and cocaine.) A number of returning service men brought the custom back to the United States. During the late 1950s, some San Francisco area physicians prescribed amphetamine injections as treatment for heroin addiction, often using Methedrine@. Availability increased.

As recently as 1960, it was reportedly common practice in the San Francisco area for injectable amphetamines to be sold without prescription, or via forged prescriptions. Such practices eventually became known, and the resultant scandals during 1962 and 1963 caused the bulk of injectable amphetamines to be withdrawn from pharmacy shelves.

With injectable amphetamines available legally only to hospitals, the inevitable black market suppliers appeared. Speed went underground and illicit laboratories specializing in the amphetamine business were reported in the San Francisco area as early as 1962 (Brecher, 1972).

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