This month, recreational marijuana use became legal under state law in Washington and Colorado. Pot smokers lit up in public while the U.S. Attorney General warned that the stuff is still illegal under federal law, and that the government is obligated to prosecute offenders. All of which got us wondering, when did the government first start regulating drugs? Turns out, marijuana, heroin, opium, and plenty of other substances were all perfectly legal until the early 20th century. In fact, the “wonder drug” cocaine was first touted as a cure for morphine addiction!
So on this episode of BackStory, we’re looking at the history of drugs in America: who’s bought them, who’s sold them, and how Americans have distinguished between licit and illicit use. From anxiety over opium dens in 1870s San Francisco to dodgy patent medicines to “Just Say No,” we’ll look at what Americans have feared, and valued, about drugs.
Please help us shape this show! Have an opinion about legalizing marijuana? What did you make of DARE as a middle schooler? How has the image of the “typical drug addict” changed in your lifetime? Share your thoughts, questions, and stories with us below.