Excerpt from the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act of 1914
Reprinted from The Statutes at Large and Proclamations of the United States of America from March 1913 to March 1915. Vol. XXXVIII, Part 1 Published in 1915
Prior to the twentieth century few restrictions were placed on drug trade and use. Opium and cocaine flowed freely into the United States. Drug abuse was considered more a public health problem than a criminal activity. Drugs such as opium and cocaine were common in medicines. Opium, which affects the brain and spinal cord, had been a painkiller and sedative for centuries. Opium and cocaine were also used to fight depression, relieve chronic pain, serve as an anesthetic, settle intestinal disorders, and relieve a variety of other afflictions.
Cocaine was even used as an ingredient in wine and Coca Cola. Other drugs were processed from opium, such as morphine, a major pain-fighting drug for the wounded in the American Civil War (1861–65; war in the United States between the Union [North], who was opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [South], who was in favor of slavery). Drugs derived from opium are called opiates. In 1898 a process to derive heroin from opium was discovered, becoming the most additive opiate of all.
"Any person who violates or fails to comply with any of the requirements of this Act shall, on conviction, be fined . . . or be imprisoned."
The first effort to regulate drugs came in 1906 with the Pure Food and Drug Law. The act posed few restrictions, however,
as it primarily concerned the labeling of medicines by pharmaceutical companies. It did lead to a decline in the use of opiates in medicines. The next action by Congress came just three years later with the Opium Exclusion Act of 1909, which prohibited importing opium. Domestic production and the use of opiates in medicines continued.
In 1914 Congress passed the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act, the first measure to control narcotics trafficking. The act approached control through a revenue path—requiring those who transported, sold, or possessed narcotics to report it to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and pay taxes. The Harrison Act limited opium availability to only small amounts as prescribed by doctors, who were required to register and pay taxes on the amounts they prescribed.
Things to remember while reading excerpts from the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act of 1914:
- Opium comes from opium poppy plants native to Turkey; cocaine comes from the coca plant found in South America. Both produce a feeling of euphoria (an artificial high) but have long-term health consequences when abused.
- In 1874 the city of San Francisco banned the smoking of opium except in the Chinatown district.
- In its earliest legislation on narcotics in 1890, Congress placed a tax on opium and morphine.
- Following the discovery of heroin in 1898, heroin addiction skyrocketed over the next several years.
Excerpt from the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act of 1914
An Act To provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax upon all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That on and after the first day of March, nineteen hundred and fifteen, every person who produces, imports, manufactures, compounds, deals in, dispenses, sells, distributes, or gives away opium or coca leaves of any compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, or preparation thereof, shall register with the collector of internal revenue of the district his name or style, place of business, and place or places where such business is to be carried on: Provided, That the office, or if none, then the residenceof any person shall be considered for the purposes of this Act to be his place of business. At the time of such registry and on or before the first day of July, annually thereafter, every person who produces, imports, manufactures, compounds, deals in, dispenses, sells, distributes, or gives away any of the aforesaid drugs shall pay to the said collector a special tax at the rate of $1 per annum . . . .
It shall be unlawful for any person required to register under the terms of this Act to produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away any of the aforesaid drugs without having registered and paid the special tax provided for in the section.
That the word "person" as used in this Act shall be construed to mean and include a partnership, association, company, or corporation, as well as a natural person. . . .
That the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, shall make all needful rules and regulations for carrying the provisions of this act into effect.
SEC. 2. That it shall be unlawful for any person to sell, barter, exchange, or give away any of the aforesaid drugs except in pursuance of a written order of the person to whom such article is sold, bartered, exchanged, or given, on a form to be issued in blank for that purpose by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. Every person who shall accept any such order, and in pursuance thereof shall sell, barter, exchange, or give away any of the aforesaid drugs, shall preserve such order for a period of two years in such a way as to be readily accessible to inspection by any officer, agent, or employee of the Treasury Department duly authorized for that purpose, and the State, Territorial, District, municipal, and insular officials named in section five of this Act. . . .
(a) To the dispensing or distribution of any of the aforesaid drugs to a patient by a physician, dentist, or veterinary surgeon registered under this Act in the course of his professional practice only: Provided, That such physician, dentist or veterinary surgeon shall personally attend; and such record shall be kept for a period of two years from the date of dispensing or distributing such drugs, subject to inspection, as provided in this Act.
(b) To the sale, dispensing, or distribution of any of the aforesaid drugs by a dealer to a consumer under and in pursuance of a written prescription issued by a physician, dentist, or veterinary surgeon registered under this Act: Provided, however, That such prescription shallbe dated as of the day on which signed and shall be signed by the physician, dentist, or veterinary surgeon who shall have issued the same: And provided further, That such dealer shall preserve such prescription for a period of two years from the day on which such prescription is filled in such a way as to be readily accessible to inspection by the officers, agents, employees, and officials hereinbefore mentioned.
(c) To the sale, exportation, shipment, or delivery of any of the aforesaid drugs by any person within the United States or any Territory or the District of Columbia or any of the insular possessions of the United States to any person in any foreign country, regulating their entry in accordance with such regulations for importation thereof into such foreign country as are prescribed by said country, such regulations to be promulgated [published] from time to time by the Secretary of State of the United States.
(d) To the sale, barter, exchange, or giving away of any of the aforesaid drugs to any officer of the United States Government or of any state, territorial, district, county, or municipal or insular government lawfully engaged in making purchases thereof for the various departments of the Army and Navy, the Public Health Service, and for Government, State, territorial district, county, or municipal or insular hospitals or prisons. . . .
SEC. 3. That any person who shall be registered in any internalrevenue district under the provisions of section one of this Act shall, whenever required so as to do by the collector of the district, render to the said collector a true and correct statement or return, verified by affidavit, setting forth the quantity of the aforesaid drugs received by him in said internal-revenue district, during such period immediately preceding the demand of the collector, not exceeding three months, as the said collector may fix and determine; the names of the persons from whom the said drugs were received; the quantity in each instance received from each of such persons, and the date when received.
SEC. 4. That it shall be unlawful for any person who shall not have registered and paid the special tax as required by section one or this Act to send, ship, carry, or deliver any of the aforesaid drugs from any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, or any insular possession of the United States, to any person in any other State or Territory or the District of Columbia or any insular possession of the United States: Provided, That nothing contained in this section shall apply to common carriers engaged in transporting the aforesaid
drugs, or to any employee acting within the scope of his employment, of any person who shall have registered and paid the special tax as required by section one of this Act, or to any person who shall deliver any such drug which has been prescribed or dispensed by a physician, dentist, or veterinarian required to register under the terms of this Act, who has been employed to prescribe for the particular patient receiving such drug, or to any United States, State, county, municipal, District, Territorial, or insular officer or official acting within the scope of this official duties. . . .
SEC. 6. That the provisions of this Act shall not be construed to apply to the sale, distribution, giving away, dispensing, or possession of preparations and remedies which do not contain more than two grains of opium, or more than one-fourth of a grain of morphine, or more than one-eighth of a grain of heroin, or more than one grain of codeine, or any salt or derivative of any of them in one fluid ounce, or, if a solid or semisolid preparation, in one . . . ounce; or to liniments, ointments, or other preparations which are prepared for external use only, except liniments, ointments, or . . . any of their salts or any synthetic substitute for them; Provided, That such remedies and preparations are sold, distributed, given away, dispensed, or possessed as medicines and not for the purpose of evading the intentions and provisions of this Act. The provisions of this Act shall not apply to decocainized coca leaves or preparations made therefrom,or to other preparations of coca leaves which do not contain cocaine. . . .
SEC. 9. That any person who violates or fails to comply with any of the requirements of this Act shall, on conviction, be fined not more than $2,000 or be imprisoned not more than five years, or both, in the discretion of the court.
SEC. 10. That the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to appoint such agents, deputy collectors, inspectors, chemists, assistant chemists, clerks, and messengers in the field and in the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the District of Columbia as may be necessary to enforce the provisions of this Act. . . .
What happened next . . .
Many of the states also passed their own laws prohibiting the sale of opiates by 1916. A narcotics division was established in the U.S. Treasury Department that enforced the ban on all narcotics sales. The Harrison Act did have an effect on the supply of drugs; it was reflected by an increased demand for drugs on the black market by the mid-1920s. This demand led to organized crime expanding from bootlegging under Prohibition to include drug trafficking as well.
Well-known crime leaders turned away from the more competitive production and selling of rum running to drug trafficking on an international basis. The goal of organized crime was to regulate the supply of drugs into the country, therefore keeping demand and the price of narcotics high. They purchased legitimate warehouses, antique stores, and art galleries to store illegal shipments of drugs and launder drug money. What law enforcement considered a narcotics epidemic swept the country by the late 1920s.
The ban on alcohol from Prohibition followed the Harrison Act by five years. Others sought to ban tobacco, which was considered to have medicinal value in the nineteenth century. That opinion markedly changed through the twentieth century leading to the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965. The act required tobacco companies to place health warnings on cigarette packaging and advertising. By the 1990s tobacco smoking was becoming increasingly unacceptable though still legal.
Other drugs gained the attention of the public and legislatures. In 1915 California became the first state to criminalize marijuana use. Many other states passed similar laws over the next two decades, and Congress passed a federal law, the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act in 1937 banning marijuana use. Efforts to legalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes gained limited success in several states by the early twenty-first century.
The social upheavals of the 1960s brought greater attention to marijuana and hallucinogens that had gained popularity with the country's youth. In addition, many soldiers sent to the Vietnam War (1954–75; a controversial war in which the United States aided South Vietnam in its fight against a takeover by Communist North Vietnam) in the late 1960s were introduced to marijuana and heroin in Southeast Asia. In response, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1970. The act created the position of a top government administrator, referred to as a "Drug Czar," charged with coordinating the anti-drug law enforcement efforts of many agencies.
Through the 1970s states passed drug laws that included tough sentencing measures, in some cases fifteen years to life in prison for selling small amounts of drugs. This trend favoring punishment over rehabilitation continued to grow as drug use expanded. In the mid-1980s President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004; served 1981–89) introduced the "War on Drugs." At the time, a rise in use of crack cocaine, an inexpensive, powerful form of the drug, was spreading quickly in the nation's inner cities. Along with crack cocaine came a rise in gang activity and violence.
Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988. The acts greatly increased law enforcement efforts against drug offenders including border patrols. The act also provided for a forfeiture of property associated with committing drug crimes or purchased from drug profits. Regarding punishment, the acts increased mandatory sentences, provided funding assistance for building more prisons, and established the death penalty for drug-related killings.
The courts supported this strong stance by ruling that a mandatory life sentence for selling cocaine was not cruel and unusual punishment. By the late 1990s the federal government and states were spending some $40 billion a year on the drug war. The fight even went beyond the nation's borders to Columbia, a key source for cocaine.
The United States maintained stiffer drug laws and punishment than most European countries. Despite this long and expensive fight against drug use, by the early twenty-first century some four million heavy drug users still existed in the United States and some 400,000 were in prisons convicted of drug offenses. Some drug use was down, such as cocaine, while others were up, like heroin. Drug trafficking remained very profitable despite a decrease in protection against unlawful search and seizure.
Did you know . . .
- The war on drugs dominated the criminal justice system in the 1980s and 1990s until antiterrorism measures took priority. Prisons expanded greatly to hold the large volume of drug offenders apprehended during this period.
- International drug trafficking by organized crime syndicates operating out of Asia and South America rose in prominence in the latter half of the twentieth century.
- By the 1990s many jurisdictions adopted zero-tolerance policies against drug use and trafficking, prostitution on the streets, and gambling in public places. They believed if these lesser crimes were tolerated, then more serious criminal activity would occur as well.
- In the early 2000s Afghanistan was the leading producer of opium.
Consider the following . . .
- Divide the class into two groups and discuss the longstanding debate as to whether drug use should be considered a crime or a public health issue. How do the two perspectives differ in the treatment of drug traffickers and users? Should society accept drug use as unavoidable and focus only socially disruptive behavior?
- Opium declined in use through the twentieth century, while heroin use increased with millions of addicts worldwide. Cocaine also declined in use by the twenty-first century but remained a problem for law enforcement. Describe the effects that heroin and cocaine have on the human body.
- What have been the key drug enforcement issues in your community?
Grains: Small fractions of an ounce (grain is a very small unit of weight; 480 grains equal once ounce in pharmacy measurements).
For More Information
Abadinsky, Howard. Drug Abuse: An Introduction. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall Publishers, 1997.
Hanson, Bill, ed. Life With Heroin: Voices From the Inner City. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1985.
Sora, Joseph, ed. Substance Abuse. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1997.
National Institute on Drug Abuse.http://www.nida.nih.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.http://www.dea.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).