Harrison Narcotics Tax Act
The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was a United States federal law that regulated and taxed the production, importation, distribution and use of opiates. The act was proposed by Representative Francis Burton Harrison of New York and was approved on December 17, 1914 when it was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.
"An act To provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax on all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes."
This act was intended to curve the growing number of opium addictions within the U.S. As well as to deal with concerns over our new territory in the Philippines.
Following the Spanish-American War the U.S. took over government of the Philippines. Confronted with a licensing system for opium addicts, a Commission of Inquiry was appointed to examine alternatives to this system. The Brent Commission recommended that narcotics should be subject to international control.
This proposal was supported by the United States Department of State and in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt called for an international opium conference, which was held in Shanghai in 1909. A second conference was held at the Hague in 1911, and out of it came the first international drug control treaty, the International Opium Convention of 1912, aimed primarily at solving the British-caused opium problems of China.
In 1914, the Senate considered the Harrison bill. The act was supported by the Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan who urged that the law be passed to fulfill the obligation of the new international treaty. The debate was about international obligations rather than morality.
The act appears to be concerned about the marketing of opiates. However a clause applying to doctors allowed distribution "in the course of his professional practice only." This clause was interpreted after 1917 to mean that a doctor could not prescribe opiates to an addict, since addiction was not considered a disease. A number of doctors were arrested and some were imprisoned. The medical profession quickly learned not to supply opiates to addicts.
The impact of diminished supply was obvious by mid-1915. A 1918 commission called for sterner law enforcement. Congress responded by tightening up the Harrison Act — the importation of heroin for any purpose was banned in 1924.
This act fell under the regulation of the IRS for tax collection and was enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Strauss's Federal Drug Laws and Examination Review, Fifth Edition (revised), Steven Strauss, CRC Press, 2000
- Wikipedia, Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Narcotics_Tax_Act
- Schafer Library of Drug Policy, Chapter 8. The Harrison Narcotic Act (1914), http://www.druglibrary.org/Schaffer/library/studies/cu/cu8.html