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)
“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>.
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>.