The Harrison Act And Us Drug Policy

Many critics of the Harrison Act argue that the legislation created more problems than it solved. In particular, they charge that the measure failed to eradicate the narcotics problem, primarily because it failed to prohibit the sale and distribution of MARIJUANA. In addition, detractors argue that the act did not resolve the issue of whether drug addicts should be treated as criminals or as patients requiring medical treatment. They also contend that the courts hampered the Treasury Department s enforcement authority. Specifically, courts prohibited the Treasury Department from seizing narcotics, interpreting the Harrison Act to serve as a revenue, rather than as a penal, measure. After passage of the Harrison Act, illicit use of narcotics increased initially as a result of these omissions or ambiguities.

Despite these criticisms, the Harrison Act is significant because it led to a national focus on the dangers of narcotics and drug abuse. Most important, the Harrison Act served as the impetus for further legislation, such as the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, all of which attempt to combat the illegal sale, distribution, and consumption of narcotics and other abusable substances in the United States, while ensuring their availability for medical purposes.

(SEE ALSO: Anslinger, Harry J., and U.S. Drug Policy; Britain, Drug Use in; Legal Regulation of Drugs and Alcohol; Opioids and Opioid Control: History; Psychotropic Contention; Rolleston Report; Treatment: History of)


Anslinger, H. J., & Tompkins, W. F. (1953). The traffic in narcotics. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

McWilliams, J. C. (1990). The history of drug control policies in the United States. In J. A. Inciardi (Ed.), Handbook of drug control in the United States. New York: Greenwood Press.

MUSTO, D. F. (1973). The American disease: Origins of narcotic control. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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