Addiction A-Z

Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act

Before 1900, narcotics were controlled on state and local levels with no real uniformity across the country. In 1914, the United States Congress passed the Harrison Act, which regulated opiates by taxing and controlling how they were made, imported and distributed. As a result of the Act, however, opiates became expensive and hard to get; this resulted in an increase in addiction-related crimes.

Although the Harrison Act provided a framework for violation penalties, it failed to give states the authority to seize drugs that would be considered illegal under the Act. In order to close the loophole, Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a precursor to today’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), called for development of the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act. Under the Uniform Act, controlling the sale and use of narcotics would become uniform among the various states. Although initially adopted by only nine states, President Roosevelt threw his support behind the Uniform Act, which resulted in more wide-spread acceptance.

The most controversial part of the Act was that it allowed states to treat marijuana as a narcotic and control it as they would other opiates. In order to help convince state legislatures how dangerous it would be to leave these drugs unregulated, Anslinger claimed that marijuana caused young people to become temporarily insane, and the administration produced films and other propaganda showing people smoking marijuana and then becoming psychotic and committing violent crimes, including murder and suicide. Today those in favor of legalizing marijuana often point to government efforts under President Roosevelt to put pressure on states to sign on to the legislation as an example of why you should not trust the government for facts about this drug.

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