Drugs, as it turns out, are a fantastically interdisciplinary subject matter. While I’m sure there are plenty of medical books exploring exclusively the interactions that Drug X has with, say, the nervous system, books about drugs generally fall into some hybrid category combining any number of the following subjects: Medicine, Law, Sociology, Public Policy, History, Agriculture, Anthropology, Race Studies, International Relations, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Basically, drugs are hardly ever taken in isolation for academic study. (There’s a joke there somewhere.) In turn, it’s tricky to do research on only one aspect of what drugs mean in our society. Namely, I’ve yet to find a book that is strictly about drugs and the law.
These are plenty of books that are at least in part about early American drug law, though, and I’d like to just give them some publicity here. I’ll give a few-line overview of what the book is about, and then three quotes I found pull-worthy (because they explain something about an early law, offer a thought-provoking perspective, or are simply well-written). I’ll give a page number for each quote, so in whatever edition you find, you can kind of approximate the area of the book it’s in.
(Note, these come in absolutely no particular order, and will be the first in a series I’ll throw up.)
Troy Duster, The Legislation of Morality – Duster examines the genesis of legal entanglement in personal drug usage, and how that genesis has affected judgment of drug culture and drug addicts by forcing association with the criminal element. The quotes I’ve pulled, like his book, primarily revolve around the federal government’s first bold drug law, 1914’s Harrison Act.
“It is now taken for granted that narcotic addicts come primarily from the working and lower classes. This has not always been true. The evidence clearly indicates that the upper and middle classes predominated among narcotic addicts in the period up to 1914.” Pg. 9
“Finally, the third major provision of the Harrison Act was a subtle ‘sleeper’ that was not to obtain importance until the Supreme Court made a critical interpretation in 1919. This was the provision that unregistered persons could purchase drugs only upon the prescription of a physician, and that such a prescription must be for legitimate medical use. It seemed innocent enough a provision, one that was clearly included so that the physician retained the only control over the dispensation of narcotics to the consumer. As such, the bill was designed by its framers to place the addict completely in the hands of the medical profession. It is one of those ironic twists that this third provision, intended for one purpose, was to be used in such a way as to thwart that purpose. As a direct consequence of it, the medical profession abandoned the drug addict.” Pgs. 14-15
“And so it was that the law and its interpretation by the Supreme Court provided the final condition and context for a moral reassessment of what had previously been regarded as a physiological problem. The country could begin to connect all addicts with their new-found underworld associates, and could now begin to talk about a different class of men who were consorting with criminals. The step was only a small one to the imputation of criminal intent. The bridge between law and morality was drawn.” Pgs. 16-17
David Sadofsky Baggins, Drug Hate and the Corruption of American Justice – The title more or less says it all on this one, but it has the same basic premise as Duster’s book, except it is more vitriolic (and focused on the legal system). It actually has a whole chapter devoted to how the war on drugs is a slap in the face to the constitution, going through what seems like every amendment and arguing that the evolution of the current “drug state” has jeopardized the entire document.
“As modern America declared war on the behavior of its own people, the need to keep armed standing police forces in the states and cities has grown. The first national police force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was not founded until the federal government declared prohibition.” Pg. 41
“Every demographic has its culturally defined form of intoxication. Criminalization of other groups’ selections is a way of legitimating and enacting chauvinism as the police administer the desired oppression in the name of justice.” Pg. 139
“If the content of the Bill of Rights were analyzed word by word and classified by subject, limitation of police powers easily emerges as the dominant theme. Consider that of the 10 amendments that form the charter on liberty, the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eight Amendments specifically describe limitation on the process of criminal justice. The First, Second and Ninth Amendments limit the range of subject matter that government is permitted to forbid. Of the 26 separate rights specified in the first 8 amendments, 15 are specifically aimed at the criminal process, and many of the remaining 11 have criminal law implications. Given this textual clarity, definition of police power emerges as one of the central themes of the constitutional legacy.” Pg. 29
Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports, Licit and Illicit Drugs – Considered by some as the Bible of drug scholarship, this is basically a miniature Encyclopedia about drugs and their history, published in 1972 to provide insight into drug culture of the time (What?!?! The Bible and the Encyclopedia rolled into one?!?!?!). This is the book that fully hybridizes all of the fields of study listed in my first paragraph. I’ve chosen strange quotes on this one, mostly because this book provides the most interesting trivia. Let it be disclaimed that the book is filled with highly useful information not involving canaries.
“The United States of America during the nineteenth century could quite properly be described as a ‘dope fiend’s paradise.” Pg. 3 (This is actually the opening line of the book if you don’t count the introduction.)
“Dr. Robert S. de Ropp notes that when coffee was introduced into Egypt in the sixteenth century, “the ‘coffee bugaboo’…caused almost as much fuss as the ‘marijuana bugaboo’ in the contemporary United States. Sale of coffee was prohibited; wherever stocks of coffee were found they were burned…all this fuss only had the result of interesting more people in the brew and its use spread rapidly.” Pg. 197
“Also testifying against (a 1937 proposed federal anti-marijuana law) were the distributors of birdseed, who complained that canaries would not sing as well, or might stop singing altogether, if marijuana seeds were eliminated from their diet.” Pg. 418.
Howard Abadinsky, Drugs: An Introduction (5th Edition) – This is a textbook on drugs, for an audience I can only assume as college criminal justice students or really, really motivated high school students. (Or law school students writing a historical blog.) It can almost be considered an update to Licit and Illicit Drugs, but it pulls from fewer sources.
“U.S. Opposition to alcohol was often intertwined with nativism, and efforts against alcohol and other psychoactive drugs were often a thinly-veiled reaction to minority groups. (The early temperance movement, however, was strongly abolitionist). Prohibitionists were typically rural white Protestants antagonistic to urban Roman Catholics, particularly the Irish, who used the social world of the saloon to gain political power in large cities such as New York and Chicago.” Pg. 23
“Depressed economic conditions and xenophobia led one western state after another to follow San Francisco’s lead and enact anti-Chinese legislation that often included prohibiting the smoking of opium.” Pg. 32
“At the urging of Anslinger, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Because of uncertainty over the federal government’s ability to outlaw marijuana, the act placed a prohibitive tax on cannabis – $100 an ounce – rather than prohibit the substance outright.” Pg. 47
H. Wayne Morgan, Drugs in America: A Social History, 1800-1980 – Again, another straightforward title on this one. Good comprehensive history, and sections that very interestingly approach the coincidental rise of the industrial state with the rise of American substance usage, approaching it from a cause/effect standpoint.
“There was even increasing concern about the rising consumption of tobacco, tea, and coffee, the minor deities of the household and workplace. Critics saw these as stimulants that were dangerous to an already tense and overworked people. They also feared that tea and coffee would become identified with food rather than medicine or drugs, and thus make their consumption seem normal. Government taxed alcohol and tobacco to raise revenue, but also to mark them as luxuries or their use as habits that merited disapproving.” Pg. 47
“Closer to home, Americans began to develop critical attitudes toward drug use that involved basic values and ideals. The habits that sapped other cultures were a direct threat to the competitive work ethic. The drug user in general, and the opiate addict in particular, seemed unproductive. The reigning ideas of competition and hard work always involved the interaction of society and the individual. True individualism not only enriched the person involved. It fed the results of his energy and thought back into society to create wealth and the means for further advancement. What the individual did, therefore, directly concerned society at large. The imaginative flights that some opium users reported certainly did not seem to produce either material or intellectual benefits for society. That kind of individualism thus seemed selfish, detached from society, and passive.” Pg. 50
And because I’m a child of California I found this last quote from Morgan worthy of publication:
“The increasing number of reports of opium smoking in the 1880s naturally focused on the Chinese as its source and worst association. But early critics also feared that smoking was a spreading stain that would ruin the lives of innocent young people, and even schoolchildren. This seemed especially true in California, already a romantic and unusual place in the national imagination, where experimentation with novelties seemed to be the norm of conduct, especially among the young. ‘The bane of opium-smoking in California is seen in the younger generation,’ The New York Tribune reported in 1881. ‘California children are very precocious; they seem to have an exaggerated desire to indulge in everything which is forbidden.’ Opium smoking was the first drug abuse situation in which critics used the welfare of young people as a major explanation for regulation.” Pg. 37