The first anti-drug law was implemented in San Francisco (of all places) in 1875 - outlawing opium, opium pipes, and opium dens. This trend caught on and a few policies were made regarding opium and its trade but the next major reform in drug laws came in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Control Act. This act put certain restrictions on importing, manufacturing, and distributing cocaine and opiates so that only doctors could prescribe these drugs to patients for legitimate medical reasons.
From 1917 until 1933 Alcohol was made illegal, a time in our history we refer to as the Prohibition. During this time "speak easys" started to pop up and people would sell homemade whiskey or even moonshine. Once gangsters started making money to support their criminal activities by bootlegging alcohol the government realized its mistake and responded by repealing a law that limited what people could choose to put into their bodies. With alcohol back on the market and with cocaine and opiate use becoming somewhat less of an issue, the government turned to a new devil - marijuana. In 1937 the Marijuana Tax act was established on what some might argue to be racial motivated grounds. People at that time were afraid of the crazed immigrants from Mexico that smoked the loco weed.
In the 60s, Counter-culture icons Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey extended the acid scene amongst their respectful coasts. Changes were made with the times and things like psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and ecstasy were banned shortly after they gained popularity. By 1970, the Food and Drug Administration, and a handful of other enforcement groups had been set up and were supported by the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act that established 5 Schedules for drugs, placing some substances such as marijuana, LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin in a higher category than cocaine, amphetamine, and raw opium.
After Nixon official declared the "war on drugs" in 1971, he started the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1973. Two years later, in 1975 a very interested report was issued (and ignored) by the Domestic Council Drug Abuse Task Force recommending law enforcement officials place marijuana as a "low-priority" in efforts to curve some of the real problems with heroin, amphetamines, and barbiturates. Even with all of these laws in place people were doing drugs during the 70s and 80s perhaps more than ever. Kingpins like George Jung and Pablo Escobar have been recently celebriticized but during this time these two could have been responsible for 85 % of the cocaine trade in the US. It might be interesting to know that Pablo Escobar also served on congress for his homeland of Colombia. He had a real interest in the people's need, creating low income housing and personally handing out money to the people in his hometown. The problem with cocaine is that people can get very addicted and very tolerent. Once people start losing their edge by simply snorting the substance they looked for a better more, intense high. This brings us to the Crack epidemic that started in the 80s and is still alive today. After a promising college basketball player, Len Bias over-dosed on crack cocaine the nation went crazy and it become a huge epidemic. In 1986 the Anti-Drug Abuse Act paved the way for a slew of issues by establishing mandatory minimum sentences and a 100:1 disparity between crack cocaine and powered cocaine, meaning that someone arrested for 5 grams of crack cocaine would need 500 grams of powered cocaine to receive the same mandatory 5 year minimum sentence. Why such a big difference you may ask? What exactly is the difference between powered cocaine and crack cocaine? Baking soda. Yes thats right, if you want to make crack you get some cocaine, you get some baking soda, a Bunson burner - mix em all up together in the right fashion with some water and you will have yourself some crack. By adding baking soda to the cocaine you are adding an alkaline base to the molecule, in this case a sodium atom attaches itself to the cocaine molecule. This allows for more and faster absorption of the cocaine because we have sodium receptors in our cells, making the crack for of cocaine a more intense high, but nearly identical in their chemical structure. Of course crack is an awful, dangerous drug - but why such the disparity? Perhaps we should look at our past trends as to why we pass drug laws - racism. First off, crack is cheap and popular in the poorer parts of cities. A high concentration of these poorer people happen to be African American and the incarceration rate is nearly eleven percent higher for blacks than whites for the same exact conviction. Also, because there is such a large disparity - a lot of the mid-to-high-level dealers are able to provide the authorities with information to people higher then them and can make deals to lower or eliminate their sentence. However, poor people arrested with 5 grams of crack don't know anyone, probably not even the guy they bought the crack from, and are forced to serve their entire term in prison.
In 1986, a year after Nancy Reagan started the "just say no" campaign, the Iran Contra Affair was brought into the public light. Our government was trading weapons trough Israel to Iran, essential in exchange for hostages, and helping them raise funds by keeping a shut eye to their drug tracking activities. The first Bush continued the trend of the Drug War and President Clinton even allowed for the death penalty for high level drug offenders, regardless to whether or not they were non-violent.
When California passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996 they became the first state to challenge the federal laws by allowed the use of marijuana for medical uses. Even though the Constitution allows states to make their own laws they Federal Government sends the DEA in to raid these medical marijuana facilities. The cost of Marijuana prohibition alone is about $1.2 billion a year between maintaining facilities, guards, police officers and a whatever other expenses.
I am writing this now watching our current President answer some of the most important questions of the nation. He commented that he say many of his online supporters wanted him to talk about the issue of marijuana reform or legalization/decriminalization. When he said did not only did he giggle while he talked but the audience around him laughed. Maybe those people don't know any one who has been arrested for simple possession and has now lost the right to vote, serve on a jury, adopt a child or in some places even rent a car. Maybe none of these people have sons and daughters who were in college but had to drop out because they got busted and then lost of of their financial aid because of the Higher Education Act which suggests that its better for kids to be on the streets than in school. Or perhaps they should watch this video to see what happened to 23 year old Rachel Hoffman.
Or how about Derek Copp from the University of Michigan who was shot in the lungs over "a few teaspoons of marijuana" when the police admitted they knew he was unarmed.
Or maybe Obama just forgot when he said this...
America does not have a drug problem, we have a problem with drugs. The federal government has stalled many efforts to study not only marijuana for medical reasons but also LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and Ibogaine to name only a few. Lyle Craker has been practically begging the DEA and FDA to let him grow marijuana to do research for diseases like cancer and AIDS, but for some unknown reason they not only do not allow this research to be done officially, but they ignore the information from other research done underground and abroad.
We can blame only our government for what the American Drug War has become. Drugs were not meant to be outlawed in this country, rather laws were made in attempt to keep other countries out of our market. We also looked for a way to take care of the outsiders, the Chinese with the opium, hispanics and blacks with marijuana, cocaine and other drugs have led to the on-going crisis in Mexico, and even the gay culture once they started to buckle down on the whole rave scene. We can also blame the government for putting these drugs in the hands of criminals and allowing them to use their profits from the drug trade to buy weapons and carry out other criminal acts.
We must get rid of the idea that has be propagated into heads that drugs are bad. Drugs are not bad - drug abuse and drug addiction is. However, not bad in a way that people should go to jail, but bad in the way that without proper treatment these people could face serious issues with their heath and the quality of their life. We allow tobacco and alcohol to be regulated, sold, and taxed to people once they reach a certain age of responsibility, but these substances are still the cause of many deaths and diseases for both the user and other bystanders. Why are we not allowed this same freedom with drugs? Or even marijuana? We were not a nation founded on freedom? Should we not have the freedom to experience what we want and to put whatever substance in our body that we may choose, absent harm to others? I say yes.
"The American Drug War" Trailer