Narcotics Act (1914) (Major Acts of Congress)
Jennifer Rebecca Levison
The Narcotics Act of 1914 (38 Stat. 785), also known as the Harrison Act, was one of the first attempts by the federal government to regulate drug consumption. However, it was not mainly concern about drug use at home that spurred passage of the act but rather the United States' desire to improve its relations and trade with China.
Relations between the two countries had deteriorated because of the Chinese Exclusion Acts, which kept Chinese laborers out of the United States, and because of the brutal treatment of Chinese travelers and immigrants in the United States. In response to U.S. policies concerning the Chinese, Chinese merchants organized a voluntary embargo (a stoppage of trade) against American goods in 1905. American traders, who wanted to gain entry into the lucrative China trade, then dominated by the British and other Europeans, were upset about the embargo. Thus, in addition to strained relations with China, the government was also concerned about the grumblings of its own business and trade community.
THE INTERNATIONAL OPIUM PROBLEM
Despite their strained relations, both China (at home) and the United States (in the Philippines) struggled to confront opium use, providing some common ground between the countries. Opium and other opiates are highly addictive drugs derived from the poppy plant. The opium problem had worsened when the United States took control of the Philippines from Spain following the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898. For more than half a century, the Spanish had kept strict control over the flow of opium. Following the war, opium began to flow more readily into and out of the Philippines. By 1906 China had made clear their desire to end opium imports and the rampant addiction among China's people.
Charles Henry Brent, an Episcopal bishop, made efforts to help the United States address the opium problem in the Philippines and thus to improve relations with China. In 1906, after the Chinese embargo against trade with the United States had taken effect, Bishop Brent asked President Theodore Roosevelt to convene an international meeting of the United States, Japan, and others with interests in the Far East. Brent argued that such an international effort could stop the flood of opium into China and production of opium in the Philippines. Roosevelt favored Brent's plan because it would ease tensions between the United States and China. The State Department chose Dr. Hamilton Wright, Dr. Charles C. Tenney, and Bishop Brent to act as the United States' delegates to the opium conference in Shanghai in 1909.
At the time, the United States had no federal law limiting or prohibiting the importation, use, sale, or manufacture of opium or coca (the plant from which cocaine is derived) or any other drugs made from these substances. Secretary of State Elihu Root believed it was imperative that Congress pass an antidrug measure before the Shanghai meeting. The Smoking Opium Exclusion Act was passed in 1909.
DRUG USE AT HOME
When Wright came home from the Shanghai Opium Commission, he formulated a domestic bill concerning the control and use of drugs. Wright's bill, introduced in 1910 by Representative David Foster of Vermont, chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, sought to control drug traffic through federal powers of taxation. The Foster bill required those who handled opiates, cocaine, chloral hydrate (a hypnotic drug), and cannabis (marijuana and hashish) to register, pay a small tax, and record all transactions. Wright told the House Committee on Ways and Means that while the Chinese community had the largest number of opium smokers, use of the narcotic was spreading to other ethic groups. He also warned of cocaine use among the African American population in the South as a way to gain the support of the Southern Democrats. However, the medical and pharmaceutical communities were not strong supporters of the Foster bill, and the bill failed to pass.
In 1911 Wright helped organize the first International Conference on Opium, convened at The Hague. The main topic was finding ways to regulate international narcotic traffic. The conference emphasized that the means to control use and trafficking of narcotics was domestic legislation within individual countries. Wright returned from the conference with a renewed determination to enact domestic drug legislation.
THE HARRISON BILL
Representative Francis Burton Harrison, a Democrat, agreed to sponsor Wright's antinarcotic legislation. The wholesale drug trade, patent medicine makers, pharmacists, and physicians met as part of the National Drug Trade Conference (NDTC) to express their opposition to the Harrison bill. To ensure that the bill would pass in the House, several of the NDTC suggestions were incorporated into the bill. However, the Harrison bill stalled in the Senate.
The Harrison bill gained renewed momentum when President Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913. The new administration directed the State and Treasury Departments to work with the drug trades and medical profession to create an acceptable bill. The NDTC finally signed a draft of the bill, and on December 14, 1914, Congress passed the Narcotics Act. The act imposed registration and record-keeping requirements on the production and sale of opiates and cocaine.
The Harrison Act did not explicitly state how to deal with drug addicts. According to the act, anyone who obtained specified drugs with "a prescription given in good faith" was allowed to possess them. Some doctors prescribed drugs in gradually diminishing amounts as a way to "maintain" addicts. Maintenance was seen as a way to cure addicts of their drug problem. The Treasury Department, which enforced the law, was against this practice and pursued druggists and physicians who maintained addicted patients.
JUDICIAL REVIEW AND LEGISLATIVE REPEAL
In 1916 the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case, United States v. Jin Fuey Moy, concerning a doctor whom Treasury agents had arrested for prescribing one-sixteenth of an ounce of morphine sulfate to an addict. The Court ruled in favor of the doctor, finding that it was unlawful for the government to interfere with the practice of medicine.
In 1919 the Court made two important decisions with respect to the Narcotics Act. First, in United States v. Doremus, the Court found that the act did not exceed the constitutional powers of the federal government. Then, the Court reversed its earlier position in Jin Fuey Moy, ruling in Webb v. United States that physicians did not have the right to maintain addicts. In 1922 the Court ruled, in United States v. Behreman, that prescribing diminishing amounts of an addictive drug with the intention of curing the addict was an illegitimate medical practice. By this time, opium and cocaine prohibition were firmly in place.
In 1970 Congress enacted the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act and repealed the existing drug laws, including the Harrison Act. For more than fifty years, the Harrison Act had served as a central feature of the entire federal legislative scheme of drug control.
See also: ANTI-DRUG ABUSE ACT; CHINESE EXCLUSION ACTS; DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION, TREATMENT, AND REHABILITATION ACT; OMNIBUS CRIME CONTROL AND SAFE STREETS ACT OF 1968; SENTENCING REFORM ACT.
Epstein, Edward Jay. Agency of Fear: Opiates and Political Power in America, rev. ed. London: Verso, 1990.
Inciardi, James A., ed. Handbook of Drug Control in the United States. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
Jonnes, Jill. Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs. New York: Scribner, 1996.
Krauss, Melvyn B., and Edward P. Lazear, eds. Searching for Alternatives: Drug-Control Policy in the United States. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1991.
McLaughlin, Gerald T. "Cocaine: The History and Regulation of a Dangerous Drug." 58 Cornell Law Review 537 (1973).
Musto, David F. The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control, 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Harrison Narcotics Act Of 1914 (Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior)
The first international drug-control initiative, the 1909 SHANGHAI OPIUM COMMISSION, brought the international community together in efforts to curb the illicit traffic and consumption of OPIUM, a NARCOTIC drug. The Shanghai Commission encouraged participants to enact national legislation that would address the problem of narcotics in their own countries. Representatives of several countries met at the Hague at conferences in 1911 and 1913.
During this period, the U.S. Congress became aware of public opinion favoring PROHIBITION of all "moral evils," especially alcohol and drugs. New York Representative Francis B. Harrison, encouraged by both the Shanghai Commission's directive to enact national legislation to curb narcotics and the reformists in the Progressive movement in the United States who wanted to eradicate drug use completely, introduced two measuresne to prohibit the importation and nonmedical use of opium and one to regulate the production of opium in the United States. Congress enacted the Harrison Act in December 1914 with minimal debate because public opinion considered its passage necessary to combat the "evils" of drugs.
PROVISIONS OF THE HARRISON ACT
Congress regulated drugs by imposing licensing requirements on manufacturers, distributors, sellers, importers, producers, compounders, and dispensers. The Harrison Act required these parties to register with the director of Internal Revenue, within the Treasury Department, and to pay a gradually increasing occupational tax. Congress wanted to monitor the flow of opium and COCA leaves so that government authorities would have records of any transaction involving these drugs. They would be allowed only for limited medical and scientific purposes. Those individuals found in violation of the act faced a maximum penalty of five years in jail, a 2,000 dollar fine, or both.
TREASURY DEPARTMENT REGULATIONS
Congress intended the Harrison Act to generate revenue by imposing taxes on parties involved in the trade, sale, and distribution of drugs. As a result, Congress entrusted enforcement responsibility to the Treasury Department, in particular the Internal Revenue Service and subsequently the Narcotics Unit of the Bureau of Prohibition. The Treasury Department attempted to limit narcotics to medical and scientific use and prevent their illegal diversion by physicians and druggists. The Harrison Act required pharmacists to review prescriptions to determine whether the quantity was unusually largehat is, a suspicious or coerced prescription.
Sales and transfers of narcotics could only be made pursuant to official order forms obtained from the director of Internal Revenue. District offices of the Internal Revenue Service maintained these records for two years. The act permitted a few notable exceptions to form filings. For example, qualified practitioners (physicians, dentists, and veterinarians) could prescribe or dispense narcotics to patients without completing the order forms but were required to maintain records of all the substances distributed. Druggists could also fill lawful prescriptions without completing order forms.
The Treasury Department interpreted the Harrison Act to prohibit drug addicts from obtaining narcotics. Addicts were prohibited from registering and could receive narcotics only through a licensed physician, dentist, or veterinarian. The Treasury Department regulations also prohibited physicians from maintaining a patient-addict on narcotics, a practice frequently used to help addicts avoid severe WITHDRAWAL pain while they were gradually weaned from narcotic DEPENDENCE. The Treasury Department interpreted possession of narcotics as prima facie evidence of a Harrison Act violation, and the burden of proof shifted to the suspect, who had to document that the narcotics were obtained legally.
The Treasury Department enforced the Harrison Act primarily through warnings. At times, however, the department charged physicians and druggists with conspiracy when authorities arrested an individual who possessed narcotics without a prescription made in good faith, and a connection could be made that the physician or the druggist provided the narcotics.
THE HARRISON ACT AND U.S. DRUG POLICY
Many critics of the Harrison Act argue that the legislation created more problems than it solved. In particular, they charge that the measure failed to eradicate the narcotics problem, primarily because it failed to prohibit the sale and distribution of MARIJUANA. In addition, detractors argue that the act did not resolve the issue of whether drug addicts should be treated as criminals or as patients requiring medical treatment. They also contend that the courts hampered the Treasury Department's enforcement authority. Specifically, courts prohibited the Treasury Department from seizing narcotics, interpreting the Harrison Act to serve as a revenue, rather than as a penal, measure. After passage of the Harrison Act, illicit use of narcotics increased initially as a result of these omissions or ambiguities.
Despite these criticisms, the Harrison Act is significant because it led to a national focus on the dangers of narcotics and drug abuse. Most important, the Harrison Act served as the impetus for further legislation, such as the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, all of which attempt to combat the illegal sale, distribution, and consumption of narcotics and other abusable substances in the United States, while ensuring their availability for medical purposes.
(SEE ALSO: Anslinger, Harry J., and U.S. Drug Policy; Britain, Drug Use in; Legal Regulation of Drugs and Alcohol; Opioids and Opioid Control: History; ; Rolleston Report; Treatment: History of)
ANSLINGER, H. J., & TOMPKINS, W. F. (1953). The traffic in narcotics. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
MC WILLIAMS, J. C. (1990). The history of drug control policies in the United States. In J. A. Inciardi (Ed.), Handbook of drug control in the United States. New York: Greenwood Press.
MUSTO, D. F. (1973). The American disease: Origins of narcotic control. New Haven: Yale University Press.
ROBERT T. ANGAROLA