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The Law

Opium Production In Afghanistan, The Law, The Drug Policy Debate

In 1914, the passage of the Harrison Narcotic Act by Congress became the first measure intended to regulate drug use in the United States. The new law placed stiffer regulations on derivatives of coca (the source of cocaine) and opium. Both drugs were still legal, but now there were new taxes and restrictions that applied to their sale. Overall, the Harrison Act failed to curb drug use. Instead, it caused many morphine and codeine addicts to switch to heroin, which was cheaper and more potent, and it drove addicts to the black market.

During the 1920s, domestic heroin production was made illegal and new international controls reduced the global supply of opium. Heroin was not completely outlawed until 1956, when the Narcotic Control Act stiffened penalties for drug offenses. In 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act overhauled and consolidated all previous drug laws. The principles behind this law are still in place today.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, and he oversaw the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1973. In 1982, as abuse of crack cocaine began to spread in the United States, President Ronald Reagan announced yet another war on drugs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was also given authority over drug activity in 1982. Although Reagan's war on drugs concentrated on reducing supply by fighting the international drug trade, new laws passed during the 1980s dramatically increased the number of offenders imprisoned for drug possession.

In the early 1990s, Colombia—a longtime supplier of cocaine—began producing heroin as well. Today, most of the heroin that is smuggled into the United States comes from Colombia, which tends to supply the East Coast, and Mexico, which supplies the West Coast. Antidrug trafficking efforts in Colombia tend to be complicated by internal politics in the country.

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