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Drug Laws and Drug Law Enforcement - A Review and Evaluation Based on 111 Years of Experience

NCJ Number
Drugs and Society Volume: 1 Issue: 1 Dated: (Fall 1986) Pages: 1-27
E M Brecher
Date Published
27 pages
This assessment of the effectiveness of drug legislation and enforcement policies over the past 111 years in the United States concludes that drug use has not been significantly reduced.
The Hague Convention of 1912 obligated each signatory country to regulate the opium traffic with its borders. The U.S. Congress passed the 1914 Harrison Narcotic Act to meet the treaty obligations. On its face, the law provided for the orderly marketing of opium, morphine, heroin, and cocaine, but Federal prosecutors decreed that what had purported to be a licensing law was a prohibition law. The law and its stringent application had little impact on opium use. Congress' response in 1922 was to increase the maximum penalty for violating the law. The Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937, and it failed to curb marijuana use; penalties were increased. Antiamphetamine laws have also been enacted with similar results. Law enforcement has sought to reduce drug abuse by arresting users, pushers, and persons high up in drug trafficking networks. It has sought to interdict drugs at U.S. borders and curb the production of illegal drugs abroad. Although some of the efforts have apparently been temporarily effective, adjustments by drug networks soon bring the supply back to previous levels. Attempts to address the drug problem through laws and law enforcement have failed. Prevention of demand is more likely to be effective. 80 references.


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