A Hundred Years’ Failure

Twenty-five years ago, the stated goal of the United States’ anti-narcotic efforts according to the Department of Justice was to “disrupt, destroy and dismantle drug trafficking enterprises.” That same year, the U.S. government pumped almost $8 billion into anti-drug efforts, including $600 million in prison construction alone. It was just a typical fiscal year during the height of the drug war. But two and a half decades later, despite this dizzying spending, we don’t need a drug czar to tell us—even though one of them has—the war on drugs, by its own measures, has been a century-long failure.

A hundred years ago this month, the U.S. government signed 700 percent increase in incarceration$450 million worth of military equipment.

It's worth taking a look at how it all went wrong from the very beginning.

Francis Burton Harrison, the New York Congressman whose name the act bears, intended none of this. His bill, which became the Harrison Act, imposed “a special tax on all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations.” Interestingly, it did not even include a section on enforcement, other than for tax collection, and while the act regulated the production and sale of “narcotics” (the bill included cocaine, which is not a narcotic), the legislation said nothing about drug users.

At the beginning of the 20th century, everyone’s medicine cabinet contained opium in some form. Patent medicines mixed alcohol and opium, and women used them for menstrual cramps, coughs and other minor symptoms, as well as for infants’ teething pains. Aging Civil War veterans self-injected morphine to soothe old wounds, and physicians dosed patients liberally with opium pills and morphine. Opium smokers, usually Chinese, but also habitués of the urban underworld and the occasional slumming college student, were the most common recreational users.

– Read the entire article Politico.