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.

     That is the situation in 1969 when we have a new drug law, the first one in this country's history that does not follow the formula.  It is the 1969 Dangerous Substances Act.  For the first time in this country's history, we have a perception of an increase in drug use during the Sixties, but instead of raising the penalties, we lower them.  And, further, in the Dangerous Substances Act of 1969, for the first time we finally abandon the so-called "taxing" mythology.

     In the 1969 Act, what the Federal law does is, it takes all the drugs we know — if you can't fill in this next blank, you are in trouble — except two — which two?  Which two are never going to be mentioned?  Nicotine and alcohol.  But, other than nicotine and alcohol — every other drug.

     By the way, I tried this with the FBI for twenty years and they wouldn't listen, and you won't listen either but, I am going to try.  If you are going to go out and talk about drugs and whatever you are going to do with drugs, will you please discard the entirely antiquated and erroneous word "narcotics."  Narcotics are drugs that put people to sleep.  Almost all of the drugs that we are interested in today don't do that.

     So, in 1969, the Dangerous Substances Act gave up the effort to define what are narcotic drugs.  What the 1969 act did, and what most state laws still do, is to classify all drugs except nicotine and alcohol by two criteria.  What is the drug's medical use?  And, what is the drug's potential for abuse?

     We put all the drugs, by those two criteria, in schedules, and then we tie the penalties for possession, possession with intent to sell, sale, and sale to a minor to the schedule of the drug in question.  Now, again, I am no good at this anymore, I have not kept up with the drug laws, I don't know who is in what schedule, and many states have abandoned the schedule, but, to give you a flavor of it: The first schedule, Schedule One Drugs were drugs that had little or no medical use and a high potential for abuse.  What's going to go in there?  LSD, marijuana, hashish, they are all in Schedule One — little or no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

     Then you get some medical use, high potential for abuse — what do you want there?  Barbiturates, amphetamines.

     Then we are going to get what?  High medical use and high potential for abuse.  Morphine, codeine.  Codeine is the best one because codeine is in almost every single prescription cough medicine and it is addictive as can be.

     Then you go on down and get the antibiotics — high medical use, almost no potential for abuse, and there you are.

     Once you schedule your drugs, you then tie the penalties for the drugs to the schedule and then, because in 1969 they wanted to reduce the marijuana penalties, they had to deal with marijuana separately and did so.

     But the 1969 act is important for two reasons again: One, we abandoned the taxing mythology; and, two, it was the first law in this country's history that, instead of raising the penalties in every offense category, lowered them.

     Well, then you know what happened.  We get the War on Drugs.  You know how it all went down.  We got perceptions in the 80s that there was an increase in drug use, a great dramatic decision to declare war on drugs and, predominantly, war on drug users.

     What I want to say to you is this, and this is where I think some of you are going to be a little surprised.  You know as much about that process as I do.  You watched it.  You saw how we had one law after another, raising the penalties so that as late as 1990, thirty percent of the minority group population of the City of Baltimore who are male and between 20 and 29 are under court supervision for drugs.  Thirty percent, that's the number you are looking for.

     The War on Drugs, a very interesting war, because why?  It was cheap to fight.  It was cheap to fight at first — why?  You heard me in the "Recent Decisions" talk.  What was last year's big moment, and the year before?  The change in cheap and easy forfeiture.  Criminal forfeiture was used to make this a costless war.  That is, easy forfeiture from those who were caught allowed us to pay for the war in that way.  I think we are going to have some real questions about whether people want to pay for the war on drugs through their taxes, because now the Court has made forfeiture much, much more difficult in their overall concern for property rights.

     But here is what I think may surprise some of you.  You guys know as much about the War on Drugs as I do.  I didn't come hear to talk, or to harangue, or to give you any opinions on that point.  I think it speaks for itself.  It is a failure and I think it will be judged as a failure.  What I wanted to bring you instead was, instead of talking about that which everybody is talking about — and you guys will ultimately resolve it and you guys are the ones who are seeing all the drug cases, day in and day out, and always will, until this changes.  But, what I thought I could bring you was the part of the story you hadn't heard — how we got to where we were when the War on Drugs was declared.

1938 to 1951

Conclusion - This Issue of Prohibition

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