1914 – New York Times Article Denouncing ‘Negro Cocaine Fiends’ as a New Southern Menace

If it wasn’t already understood that racism plays a large part in the history of US drug regulation, then this article from the New York Times will help to make this facet of enforcement apparent.  The article, titled “Negro Cocaine ‘Fiends’ Are a New Southern Menace,” focused almost entirely on increased use of cocaine by ‘insane negroes’ within the South.  The article explains that in 1913, 1 of every 386 patients admitted to hospitals in the North were ‘insane drug users’ whereas the statistic was much more prevalent within the South, with one hospital in Mississippi reporting 1 in 23 patients being admitted for ‘insane drug use’.

The article also explains the effects of cocaine known to the publishers at the time, including a juggernaut mindset with heightened resistance to pain, and increase of marksmanship.  There is also an address of why users choose to “dabble” in the drug summarized by a quote by the “fiend” (Black cocaine user), “Cause I couldn’t git nothin’ else, boss.”   The solution to the problem of poor blacks’ in particular access to drugs was to pass legislation to keep blacks out of saloons and decrease their access to whiskey.

This article highlights the racist motivation for substance regulation, an important trend in which the white legislatures primary concern seemed to be separating the lower classes (minorities) and their drug use from whites.

The article can be found here: “Negro Cocaine ‘Fiends’ Are a New Southern Menace.”

Works Cited:

“History of Drugs in America Timeline.” Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <http://www.shmoop.com/drugs-america/timeline.html&gt;.

“Negro Cocaine ‘Fiends’ Are a New Southern Menace.” The New York Times [New York, NY] 8 Feb. 1914: n. pag. Print.


1907-1913 California Cracks Down: Modern Drug Enforcement Begins

In 1907, the California State Board of Pharmacy led a crusade upon opium and cocaine by enacting a sweeping anti-narcotics law in 1907 that outlawed all non-prescription sales of the drugs.  Following the passing of this legislation, California executed the law through invoking modern tactics of drug enforcement.  The state carried out the language of the bill by deploying agents and informants, not unlike the modern practices of the Drug Enforcement Agency, to catch unsuspecting offenders, “it pioneered many of the modern techniques of drug enforcement, including undercover agents and informants, criminalization of users, and anti-paraphernalia laws, climaxed by a series of well-publicized raids on pharmacists and Chinese opium dens” (Gieringer).

In 1912, to further break the culture of opium smoking that had engrained itself into California and especially San Francisco, the board staged a giant bonfire of opium smoking paraphernalia in the heart of Chinatown.  This show of force and disinterest in the opium smoking that had been occurring by the Californian government drove addicts to less detectable substances such as morphine and heroine.  This is an important trend in US substance abuse enforcement that is often overlooked since it seems to repeat itself, addicts did not simply stop using drugs because the government began to crack down on it, but the culture seems to bend around the enforcement of drugs however necessary to provide the high.  With the opium addicts turning to heroine and morphine, it is hard to tell whether the actions by California’s state government to regulate drug trafficking and use were for better or worse.

Furthermore, in 1913 the State Board of Pharmacy of California continued its work towards limiting drug use when it turned to marijuana prohibition.  Hamilton Wright, the chief architect of U.S. narcotics policy, and Henry J. Finger, a prominent member of the California Board of Pharmacy were pivotal in the outlawing of marijuana and hashish use.  At the time, marijuana was hardly publicized or mentioned on any agenda, but Hamilton Wright suspected what the trend of addicts had already been moving towards, “I would not be at all surprised if, when we get rid of the opium danger, the chloral peril and the other now known drug evils, we shall encounter new ones,” he wrote. “Hasheesh, of which we know very little in this country, will doubtless be adopted by many of the unfortunates if they can get it” (Gieringer).  This quote is exactly the idea that government enforcement of drugs has tried to account for.   Finger approached marijuana from a racial standpoint, not unlike the stance taken against opium in the 1870s, “within the last year we in California have been getting a large influx of Hindoos and they have in turn started quite a demand for cannabis indica; they are a very undesirable lot and the habit is growing in California very fast…the fear is now that they are initiating our whites into this habit…”  The Hindoos were actually East Indian immigrants who were largely denounced for their “outlandish customs, dirty clothes, strange food, suspect morals, and especially their propensity to work for low wages.”  Their use of marijuana was arbitrary if not for the work of Finger, they were viewed as sober and hardworking by most.  “The wheels for prohibition were set in motion in California, where legislation to ban “narcotic preparations of hemp” was introduced in the 1913 legislature” (Gieringer)

Although the passage of the law attracted little attention, the Board’s continued use of enforcement methods definitely did.  In 1914, enforcement agents cracked down on a Mexican Sonoratown neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times reported that two “dream gardens” containing $500 worth of Indian hemp or “marahuana” (spelt thusly to popularize minority’s use of the drug). After this initial crackdown, interest in marihuana subsided and its use was not noted until the 1920s in northern California. (Gieringer)

Henry J. Finger

Works Cited:

“Drug Addiction and Drug Abuse.” Infoplease. The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2012. Web. 13 Sept. 2013. <http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/science/drug-addiction-drug-abuse-history.html&gt;.

Gieringer, Dale H. “CA NORML Costs of Prohibition.” CA NORML Costs of Prohibition. N.p., May 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <http://www.canorml.org/background/ca1913.html&gt;.

1906 – The Pure Food and Drug Act

Dr. Harvey W. Wiley

What could be considered the first federal regulation upon drug use was drafted by Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, a chemist whose main focus and work since 1880 was improving food purity (Harvey).  Wiley actually spoke out declaring that “coffee drunkenness is a commoner failing than the whiskey habit… This country is full of tea and coffee drunkards. The most common drug in this country is caffeine” (History).

The bill begins as such:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That it shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture within any Territory or the District of Columbia any article of food or drug which is adulterated or misbranded, within the meaning of this Act; and any person who shall violate any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and for each offense shall, upon conviction thereof, be fined not to exceed five hundred dollars, or shall be sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, for each subsequent offense and conviction thereof shall be fined not less than one thousand dollars or sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, or both such fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court. (States)

The language of The Pure Food and Drug Act isn’t exactly foreign to US citizens today, but it was the first of its kind meant to limit the distribution and manufacture of illegal drugs.  The act targeted “accurate labeling of patent medicines containing opium and certain other drugs” in particular.  Although the act ended up much clearer in its regulation of drugs as opposed to food production and manufacture, the misbranding of drugs was the source of most controversy as drug regulation and enforcement grew.  The Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914, proposed by Representative Francis Burton Harris, continued to regulate and imposed taxes upon the manufacture and transportation of opiates and coca, the plant from which cocaine is extracted.


Works Cited:

“Harvey W. Wiley.” FDA.gov. US Food and Drug Administration, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/WhatWeDo/History/CentennialofFDA/HarveyW.Wiley/default.htm&gt;.

“History of Drugs in America Timeline.” Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <http://www.shmoop.com/drugs-america/timeline.html&gt;.

States, United. “Pure Food and Drug Act (1906).” NCBI. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Apr. 0000. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22116/&gt;.

1875 – San Francisco’s Opium Den Ordinance

“On November 15, 1875, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to keep or frequent opium dens, the opening shot in a war that is still raging on” (Gierenger). Following the Civil War, the use of morphine and especially opium proliferated throughout the US, with San Francisco becoming the major port of entry for smoking the drug.   The act of smoking opium and the drug itself were not the target of the San Francisco Opium Den Ordinance.  During the mid-1870s, anti-Chinese sentiment swept the state of California.  The Chinese were the original introducers of the drug during the gold rush and at the time were the primary users in San Francisco.  Racism fueled the passing of the ordinance, because Chinese immigrants were heavily involved in managing opium dens, the point of the legislation was to decrease the interaction and sale of opium between Chinese immigrants and white Americans.  This law, being the first of its kind in attempting to decrease the use of a drug, inspired many more by state and federal governments to control drug use.

"There were said to be 3 - 4,000 white and 10 - 15,000 Chinese habitués of these dens in the city in the mid-1880s" (Gierenger)

“There were said to be 3 – 4,000 white and 10 – 15,000 Chinese habitués of these dens in the city in the mid-1880s” (Gierenger)

“Seen in retrospect, the opium den era was remarkably benign. Opium smokers were notably more peaceable than drunks. The dens accounted for just a few misdemeanor arrests per week. Offenders typically paid a fine; only a handful went to jail. There were no complaints of dealers in the streets, and drug-related violence was unknown. Drug possession was perfectly legal” (Gierenger).



Works Cited:

Gieringer, Dale. “125 Years of the War on Drugs.” 125 Years of the War on Drugs. DrugSense, Nov. 2000. Web. 13 Sept. 2013. <http://www.drugsense.org/dpfca/opiumlaw.html&gt;.

“SAN FRANCISCO’S CHINATOWN.” SAN FRANCISCO’S CHINATOWN. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2013. <http://www.irwinator.com/124/6-9.htm&gt;.

1861 – The Civil War, Coffee, and Morphine

It may not be first to mind when thinking about the history of substance abuse in the US, but the use of caffeine has been routed in the US since its fruition.  This use of caffeine, popularly through consuming coffee, has always been widespread and is important in analyzing the reasons for US citizens’ seeking of other drugs and can provide an explanation for addiction.  It was declared by Harper’s Weekly in 1872 that coffee is essential to commerce, “the proud son of the highest civilization can no longer live happily without coffee… The whole social life of many nations is based upon the insignificant bean; it is an essential element in the vast commerce of great nations.”

The Civil War is pivotal to the history of drug use in the US because of two actions made by the Union: the cut off of Northern coffee to the South, and the distribution of nearly 10 million opium pills to Northern soldiers.  The use of coffee and the effect of caffeine was so engrained in American culture between the North and South that the Confederate soldiers were forced to drink chicory, “a bitter brew that looks like coffee but tastes worse and lacks caffeine” (History).  The Union soldiers on the other hand, were fueled by the consumption of coffee during the war, “each northern soldier received a ration of 1/10 pound of coffee grounds per day (36 pounds per year), making the boiling coffeepot a universal presence in Union camps.” (History) These two dichotomies (the South’s resort to the bitter chicory, and the Union’s proliferation of coffee drinking) exemplify the addictive habits that had been and were continuing to grow within the United States.

Coffee was a staple of Civil War soldier camps.

Coffee was a staple of Civil War soldier camps.

On top of the use of caffeine during the war, a much stronger and more potent drug, morphine a derivative of opium, was popularized by the Union’s distribution of it for its numbing effect upon wounded soldiers.  Most of the soldiers of the Civil War became hooked on the power of morphine and became veterans addicted to the drug, this addiction brought with it an interest in opium as well which led to the proliferation of opium dens discussed in the next post.  “By the early 1900s there were an estimated 250,000 addicts in the United States” (Drug).  

Works Cited:

Billings, John D., and Kathy Weiser. “Hardtack and Coffee in the Civil War.”Legends of America. N.p., Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ah-hardtackcoffee.html&gt;.

“Drug Addiction and Drug Abuse.” Infoplease. The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2012. Web. 13 Sept. 2013. <http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/science/drug-addiction-drug-abuse-history.html&gt;.

“History of Drugs in America Timeline.” Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <http://www.shmoop.com/drugs-america/timeline.html&gt;.

Introduction and Overview

This blog is meant to analyze and explain the history of drug use and enforcement in the United States starting with the Civil War.  Ever since Columbus landed on the shores of the New World and received tobacco during an exchange of gifts with the natives, drugs have been a part of the story of America.  This blog will pick up the story of substance use at the Civil War and will lead up into modern day regulatory practices in place in the US.  It seems that as long as drugs have been around, there has been endless disagreement over how best to address there presence.