What Exactly is the War on Drugs?
The phrase, “war on drugs” has been part of the American lexicon since Richard Millhouse Nixon used it in his short-lived presidency of the early 70’s. And while he may have coined the phrase, he did not start this war. Just like the war in Vietnam, Nixon inherited both unwinnable wars, and he sold the American public on their importance.
The roots of this war on drugs can be traced back to the opium epidemic of the Philippines, which the US acquired after the Spanish-American War. In light of this spreading epidemic, which had found its way to the US, the Brent Commission of 1906 recommended that narcotics be subject to International control. Shortly thereafter, the US State Department endorsed the recommendation and called for the International Opium Commission, which was held in 1909 and again in 1911. From these commissions, the first international drug control treaty was created in The International Opium Convention of 1912.
By 1914, it was estimated that 1 in 400 Americans were addicted to opium derivatives, the majority of which were women who prescribed or acquired the drugs from Sears and Roebuck catalogues for “female” cramps. Opiate and cocaine were not regulated at the time, but the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act made labeling of these addictive chemicals mandatory. It was during this time that these “narcotics” were linked to crime.
Using Fear as a Weapon
From these unwarranted, fear-inducing stereotypes, coupled with the sexual insecurities of US legislators, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 was born. The purpose of which, as described by Harrison himself, was not to raise revenue by taxation of opiates and cocaine, but to regulate their existence by making medicines containing the narcotics available only thru prescription.
By 1915, the act directly diminished the supply end of the ever-delicate scales of supply and demand. One didn’t need a crystal ball to predict what was to come in the years following. Beginning with regulated labeling, then with regulation thru taxation, and ending with the attempt to control, the term “controlled substance” came into being with the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. While Americans lost their right to make decisions for themselves, the largest criminal enterprise in the history of mankind was born, and the Great War on Drugs began. And continues.