The History Channel's Hooked - Illegal Drugs and How They Got That Way
Written by Kevin Eagan
Published December 30, 2007
The history of American drug laws have not been as cut and dried as
one might think. Most of our first drug laws were rooted in
misunderstanding and prejudice rather than a feeling of helping those
in the throes of an addiction.
Today, our drug laws stem from the 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Act,
which removed state regulation of existing drug laws and allowed the
federal government (under the Food and Drug Administration and the
newly formed Drug Enforcement Administration) complete control over
drug laws and enforcement. President Nixon officially declared a "war
on drugs," a war that now costs the federal government billions
yearly, and yet, by most estimates, drug usage continues without halt
in the black market.
The History Channel's Hooked: Illegal Drugs and How They Got That Way
takes us through America's obsessions with drugs, from 19th century
opium and cocaine addictions up to modern day problems with LSD,
amphetamines, and ecstasy. Hooked shows us how preconceived (and
often wrong) racial and ethnic prejudices formed many of the first
laws banning drugs like heroin, morphine, and cocaine in the early
20th century, and how immigration issues in Depression-era America
Hooked starts out by describing how marijuana becomes a drug of
choice during Prohibition. While alcohol was illegal, many decided to
use legal drugs like marijuana to get high, and unlike modern times,
this was a completely acceptable drug that was readily available
throughout America. In the midst of the 1930s, as American jobs
became scarce, many Southwestern border states became upset with
Mexican workers who crossed the border seeking jobs that Americans
needed. Along with them came their drugs, such as marijuana. White
politicians in these border states saw an opportunity: outlaw pot and
kick them out, securing jobs for American workers.
By the time marijuana is outlawed in America, the first major wave of
Federal propaganda and control over drug laws takes hold. Thousands
of acres of "weeds" (once used agriculturally to produce hemp) are
destroyed, and Americans are turned into criminals for smoking marijuana.
Our drug laws banning opiates such as heroin and morphine also came
from a place of prejudice. In cities like San Francisco at the turn
of the century, migrant workers coming from China to work on the
railroad brought with them opium and new cultural acceptance of the
drug. The white majority, however, enacted local laws to try and
block opium, thinking that this might draw out Chinese workers that
they saw as a nuisance. In the American south, cocaine was seen as
the drug that made African American men become violent in the
streets, which created new racial prejudices. Politicians, seeing an
opportunity, outlawed cocaine as a way to reinforce racial inequality
in the early 20th century American south.
Hooked also shows how these drugs affected families. At the turn of
the century, Americans had no way of knowing what drugs were in their
"miracle" medicines. The drugs in many of these patent medicines,
including the ever-popular Coca-Cola, ranged from caffeine to heroin
and cocaine. Mothers were addicts, and did not know they were turning
their own children into addicts as well. By the 1920s, most of these
drugs were outlawed across the country, and medicine manufacturers
had to label their ingredients. Coca-Cola was just a tasty soft
drink, lacking the cocaine that once made it a "medical" drink.
By the 1960s, drugs become a way for America's youth to rebel against
the conformity and mediocrity of post-World War II America.
Throughout most of the 1960s, LSD is completely legal, even though it
is portrayed by the mainstream media as incredibly dangerous.
Marijuana, on the other hand, becomes the drug of rebellion as it
remains illegal. Of course, Richard Nixon's Comprehensive Drug Abuse
Act in 1970 will forever change how drug laws are written, and the
legislative branch of American government will never again have to
write specific laws to outlaw specific drugs. Nixon's Drug Abuse Act
sets up a scheduling system, and to outlaw a specific drug, it only
has to be moved to a schedule I or II status (meaning it has little
to no medical purpose, and is completely outlawed). Oddly enough,
marijuana is still a Schedule I drug on par with cocaine, LSD, and heroin.
Of course, Hooked doesn't leave it at that. Instead, the documentary
does a great job of both giving opinions on the effectiveness of
America's new drug war and showing that, while it may work on a
smaller level, it only brings drugs to the black market. While half
of those in our federal prison system are there for drug-related
crimes, Americans continue to use drugs at the same levels as at the
turn of the century. At the same time, America's perceptions of drugs
have changed, and the drug war continues.
Hooked gives a balanced account of America's drug culture and
emerging war on drugs and their users and sellers. It shows that
drugs, despite becoming illegal, are here to stay. As new drugs
emerge (as they inevitably will), Americans will continue to consume
in secrecy, and our federal drug laws will continue to have a hard
time keeping up.
Hooked: Illegal Drugs and How They Got That Way is available to
purchase at the History Channel's web site.