Tuesday, October 30, 2012

First Anti-Opium Law Passed - 1890

On this date in 1890, Oakland, California is the first city to enact a law against use of opium and other mind altering substances without a prescription.

The new regulations allowed only doctors to prescribe these drugs, which, until then, had been legal for cures or pain relief. Reflecting a general trend at the time, Oakland was only one of the jurisdictions across the country that began to pass criminal laws against the use of mind-altering substances. In 1880, Kansas banned the sale and manufacture of all intoxicating liquors in an amendment to its constitution. Many other states left the question open to county governments, which resulted in different alcohol laws in every town. Soon, sellers were required to obtain a license in most states. Interestingly, both Texas and Massachusetts passed laws requiring that bars and saloons have open windows, presumably so that the community could keep an eye on what was happening inside. In the latter part of the 19th century, opium dens began to spring up. Generally, there was no legal prohibition on these narcotics, although respectable society certainly disapproved of addicts. Due to the growth of the opium problem after the acquisition of the Philippines, the Harrison Act of 1914 was passed, which added a tax to the sale of narcotics. This was intended to stop the easy availability of drugs, and in 1919, the act was extended to prohibit even the use of drugs in small doses for recovering addicts. More recently, drug laws have been witnessing a bit of a backlash. In the late 1990s, California and Arizona voters passed ballot initiatives that allow for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

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