If you haven’t seen it, watch The War On Drugs, Part 1 – The Beginning Marijuana Laws.
In this installment of this six-part series on The War on Drugs, Professor Joshua Kane, Ph.D. head of research at A Better Today Recovery Services and lecturer at Arizona State University is bringing us into the 20th century where drugs started out completely legal.
“If you go back and look at cough syrup from the time, common ingredients are Morphine, Cannabis, Chloroform, and of course Alcohol … These ingredients were not in small quantities and you could buy this over the counter. You could buy Morphine over the counter, you could buy Cocaine over the counter, drugs were basically legal in Eastern cities,” Kane explains.
Alcohol Prohibition – Early 1900s
The alcohol-prohibition movement had roots in the political inequality of women at the time.
“Women were looking for the right to vote at the same time that they were having this prohibition movement and those two things combined,” Kane said.
In order for prohibition laws to be enacted, a constitutional amendment banning the sale and consumption of alcohol was required because intoxicants are not mentioned anywhere within the original US Constitution.
“As we all know, prohibition was a mess, people didn’t stop drinking alcohol. That’s because culture is stronger than law, you cannot change culture through law,” Kane continues, “What prohibition mainly led to was a rise in gangsterism in the United States.”
Bootlegging became a quick way to gain not only money, but power as well.
Kane explains that Joe Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy family, “made most of his money bootlegging alcohol in the era of prohibition and then his family was able to become an elite power.”
Prohibition was a mess but since a constitutional amendment was necessary to start it, a constitutional amendment was also necessary to repeal it.
Controlling the 1940s
During the 1940s the United States started to become more multicultural.
“In Harlem blacks, whites and other races would party together and one of their main ways of interacting was through the use of drugs” Kane reveals.
This posed a problem for elites in the 1940s, “The people who had power in America, they didn’t like this sort of mixing … Drugs got on the radar of the government as something that was problematic in terms of racial segregation.”
Making Drugs Illegal
During the 1950s, just as movements for black equality began to develop, the DEA was created, and drugs were made illegal.
“A constitutional amendment was necessary for the prohibition of alcohol, but the reality was that Americans were not going to vote for a constitutional amendment against drug use after prohibition had failed so miserably.”
It was because of this that all federal drugs laws, even today, are put under the Commerce Clause.
“The Commerce Clause is a small, little clause in the Constitution that was meant to keep states from putting tariffs on their textiles as they traded them to other states. The Commerce Clause as regulating interstate trade was seen as a vehicle to make all drugs illegal in the United States.”
Kane questions whether it is constitutional to have drug laws fall under the Commerce Clause; indeed, Supreme Court Justices O’Connor and Thomas make a similar argument in their dissenting opinions in the landmark case Gonzalez v. Raich.
…continue on to The War on Drugs, Part 3 – Modern-Day War on Drugs