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Narcotics Acts

Development Of Federal Narcotics Laws

During the Civil War, forms of opiates were considered "miracle" drugs that could be used as anesthetics when a doctor performed surgery. Without opiates, surgeries during that period, which often consisted of amputations, involved a group of men holding down a patient while a doctor sawed off the limb of a patient. By the 1870s, opiates, cocaine and other drugs were used in a variety of medical concoctions, leading to increases in addictions.

The use of opium, cocaine, and other drugs continued through most of the nineteenth century. The type of addiction during that time that caused the most concern was alcoholism, and because the causes of addiction and the dangers of narcotics were both unknown, doctors recommended morphine and heroin as remedies for addiction to alcohol. Cocaine was also used in tonics, such as the mixture that became known as Coca-Cola. Moreover, patients, including those of Sigmund Freud, were treated for depression with cocaine.

Congress enacted the PURE FOOD AND DRUG ACT OF 1906, ch. 3915, 34 Stat. 768, which formed the FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION (FDA) and gave it the power to regulate food and drugs. Drug addiction began to drop as a result of early FDA regulations. Eight years later, Congress enacted the Harrison Tax Act, ch. 1, 38 Stat. 789, which prohibited the dispensation and distribution of narcotic drugs. In 1922, Congress enacted the Narcotics Drug Import and Export Act, ch. 202, 42 Stat. 596, which prohibited importation and use of opium and other narcotics except for medical purposes.

Between 1922 and 1970, Congress enacted several additional laws that were designed to curb narcotics importation, trade, and use. Drugs such as marijuana and heroin were prohibited, as was the cultivation of opium poppies. The Narcotic Control Act of 1956, ch. 629, 70 Stat. 567 criminalized the transport of narcotics, including marijuana. Some legislation began to focus upon rehabilitation of narcotics addicts. For example, the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966, Pub. L. No. 89-793, 80 Stat. 1438, provided for treatment of addicts as an alternative to incarceration.

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