The first drug control law in the United States was a city ordinance passed in San Francisco in 1875 to try to stop the spread of opium dens. No national drug control laws existed in the United States until 1906 with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. This act was passed as a result of the rising abuse of patent medicines, such as Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup and Bayer Heroin (makers of Bayer Aspirin). The Act said that patent medicines could be sold, but they had to have a label on them that indicated what was in the product. This law had the effect of killing the patent medicine industry after the public learned what ingredients were included in their favorite wonder-cure tonic or elixir.
Further controls were put in place in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Act. That act started the modern system of prescriptions and scheduling of chemical substances that still exists today. It outlawed the use of opium and cocaine for non-medical uses. Marijuana was added to the list of controlled substances in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act.
As a result of these new drug laws, the federal government formed the first drug law enforcement agency, the Miscellaneous Division of the Bureau of Internal Revenue within the Department of Treasury. The Miscellaneous Division’s responsibilities at that time included regulatory control over oleomargarine, adulterated butter, filled cheese, mixed flour, cotton futures, playing cards and last but not least, narcotics. That agency would later become the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and eventually the modern Drug Enforcement Administration. When formed in early 1915, a total of 162 narcotics agents were hired.Next Stop