Schaffer Library of Drug Policy

The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States

by Charles Whitebread, Professor of Law, USC Law School

A Speech to the California Judges Association 1995 annual conference

Links to Related Documents

This speech is derived from The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge: An Inquiry into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition by Professor Richard J. Bonnie & Professor Charles H. Whitebread, II

In this speech, Professor Whitebread refers to the following documents which are online in this library, either in whole or in part.

The Hearings of the Marihuana Tax Act and related documents.

Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding, by the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse.

The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 - text of the Act

The Situation in 1900
The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906
The Harrison Act
The Early State Marijuana Laws
The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
1938 to 1951
Where did marijuana get its awful reputation?
1956 and the Daniel Act
1969 Dangerous Substances Act
Conclusion - The Issue of Prohibition
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1956 and the Daniel Act

1956, we get another new drug law, called the Daniel Act, named for Senator Price Daniel of Texas. It is important to us for only two reasons. One, it perfectly reflects the formula again. What is the formula? Somebody perceives an increase in drug use in this country and the answer is always a new criminal law with harsher penalties in every offense category.

Where did the perception in 1956 come from that there was an increase in drug use? Answer: Anybody remember 1956? In 1956, we had the first set ever of televised Senate hearings. And whose hearings were they? They were the hearings of Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee about organized crime in America.

These hearings, which everybody watched on their little sets showed two things that we all know today, but it sure made their socks roll up and down then. Number one, there is organized crime in America and number two, it makes all its money selling drugs. There it was, that was all the perception we needed. We passed the Daniel Act which increased the penalties in every offense category, that had just been increased times four -- times eight.

With the passage of each of these acts, the states passed little Boggs acts, and little Daniel acts, so that in the period 1958 to 1969, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Virginia was typical, the most heavily penalized crime in the Commonwealth was possession of marijuana, or any other drug.

It led to a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty years, no part of which you were eligible for parole or probation, and as to no part of it were you eligible for a suspended sentence.

Just to show you where it was, in the same time period first degree murder in Virginia had a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years. Rape, a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. Possession of marijuana -- not to mention sales of marijuana with its mandatory minimum of forty years -- mandatory minimum of twenty years.

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