Narcotics Acts

Narcotics Acts


Control over, and prevention of, the distribution and usage of narcotic drugs has been a major priority of the federal government and the various state governments since the early part of the twentieth century. Notwithstanding these efforts, statistics on the use of narcotics in the United States remain startling. According to statistics from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, between 10,000 and 24,000 metric tons of marijuana were available on American streets. This is in addition to large quantities of other forms of narcotics, including: 260–270 metric tons of cocaine, 110–140 metric tons of methamphetamine, and 13–18 metric tons of heroin.

According to the National Household Drug Survey on Drug Abuse, conducted by the sub-stance abuse and mental health services administration, 55.6 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 said that they had used illicit drugs. This compares to 53.3 percent of respondents between the ages of 26 and 34, and 28.4 percent of respondents between the ages of 12 and 17. The National Institute on Drug Abuse's 2002 Monitoring the Future Study found that 53 percent of high-school seniors claimed to have used narcotics, including 41 percent who said that they had used drugs in the past year, and 25.4 percent who said that they had used drugs in the past month.

The efforts of law enforcement officers have had some effect on the use and transfer of narcotics in the past, although these efforts have been costly. In 2001, federal agents seized approximately 1,215 metric tons of marijuana, 106 metric tons of cocaine, 3.6 metric tons of methamphetamine, and 2.5 metric tons of heroin. The costs to society in enforcing narcotics laws have continued to increase. In 1992, the total estimated costs to society of narcotics use was $102 billion. By 2000, this number had grown to $160 billion, including almost $15 billion in health care costs.

Development of Federal Narcotics Laws

During the Civil War, forms of opiates were considered "miracle" drugs that could be used as anesthetics when a doctor performed surgery. Without opiates, surgeries during that period, which often consisted of amputations, involved a group of men holding down a patient while a doctor sawed off the limb of a patient. By the 1870s, opiates, cocaine and other drugs were used in a variety of medical concoctions, leading to increases in addictions.

The use of opium, cocaine, and other drugs continued through most of the nineteenth century. The type of addiction during that time that caused the most concern was alcoholism, and because the causes of addiction and the dangers of narcotics were both unknown, doctors recommended morphine and heroin as remedies for addiction to alcohol. Cocaine was also used in tonics, such as the mixture that became known as Coca-Cola. Moreover, patients, including those of Sigmund Freud, were treated for depression with cocaine.

Congress enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, ch. 3915, 34 Stat. 768, which formed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and gave it the power to regulate food and drugs. Drug addiction began to drop as a result of early FDA regulations. Eight years later, Congress enacted the Harrison Tax Act, ch. 1, 38 Stat. 789, which prohibited the dispensation and distribution of narcotic drugs. In 1922, Congress enacted the Narcotics Drug Import and Export Act, ch. 202, 42 Stat. 596, which prohibited importation and use of opium and other narcotics except for medical purposes.

Between 1922 and 1970, Congress enacted several additional laws that were designed to curb narcotics importation, trade, and use. Drugs such as marijuana and heroin were prohibited, as was the cultivation of opium poppies. The Narcotic Control Act of 1956, ch. 629, 70 Stat. 567 criminalized the transport of narcotics, including marijuana. Some legislation began to focus upon rehabilitation of narcotics addicts. For example, the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966, Pub. L. No. 89-793, 80 Stat. 1438, provided for treatment of addicts as an alternative to incarceration.

Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act

By the late 1960s, illicit drug use in the United States had become widespread. Moreover, use of narcotics became more open, causing concerns among many communities, law enforcement personnel, and legislators. Existing narcotics laws were failing to curb the usage of narcotics drugs. For example, about half of the amphetamines and barbiturates produced legally in the United States were being distributed through illegal means.

In response to these problems, Congress in 1970 enacted the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, Pub. L. No. 91-513, 84 Stat. 1242. The CSA developed a complex regulatory system designed to control the distribution of drugs. It established five schedules of drugs, with each schedule representing the degree with which the drug is likely to be abused and the level of accepted medical use. Most narcotics, such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, fall within Schedule I, which includes drugs with high potential for abuse and with no accepted medical use.

The CSA has been amended dozens of times since is original enactment. In 1974, Congress enacted the Narcotic Addict Treatment Act of 1974, Pub. L. No. 93-281, 88 Stat. 124, which allows practitioners to dispense narcotics for detoxification and similar purposes. Other amendments to the CSA have established federally funded prevention and treatment programs, including drug-awareness education programs.

Anti-Drug Acts and National Drug Control Policy

Despite Congress' efforts to strengthen narcotics laws through the CSA, use and abuse of narcotics remained a major national problem in the 1980s. By 1984, narcotics were a part of an $80 million industry in the United States, and use of illicit drugs had reached epidemic proportions according to findings by Congress. Law enforcement officers were able to interdict only five to 15 percent of the drugs entering into the country. Moreover, statistics showed a high correlation between drug use and criminal activities. For example, about 90 percent of heroin users relied upon crime to fund their habit.

The National Narcotics Act of 1984, Pub. L. No. 98-473, 98 Stat. 2168 established the National Drug Enforcement Policy Board to coordinate efforts among federal agencies to combat narcotics trade and for other programs. Four years later, Congress enacted the National Narcotics Leadership Act of 1988 as Subtitle A of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-690, 102 Stat. 4181, which replaced the board with the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This office continues to implement the country's policies regarding education about the dangers of drug abuse as well as efforts to stifle the drug trade. The Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration are the two main federal agencies that are responsible for addressing narcotics issues in the United States.

State Narcotics Acts

Many states have enacted statutes to address narcotics trade and usage within their borders. The vast majority of states adopted the Uniform Narcotics Drug Act, which was first approved by the Commissioners on Uniform Laws and other organizations in 1930. That act and other state laws limited the production of marijuana and generally prohibited more dangerous drugs, including cocaine and heroin. In 1970, the same year that Congress approved the federal Controlled Substances Act, the Commissioners approved the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. This uniform law was eventually approved by 46 states. Although it was updated in 1990 and 1994, few states adopted the amended version.

Further readings

Jonas, Stephen. 1990. "Solving the Drug Problem: A Public Health Approach to the Reduction of the Use and Abuse of Both Legal and Illegal Recreational Drugs." Hofstra Law Review 751.

U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. 2003. Drugs of Abuse. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.


Drugs and Narcotics; Office of National Drug Control Policy.