DEALogo DRCNet Response to the
Drug Enforcement Administration
Briefing Book

DEA History

DRCNet Response: The DEA would certainly like you to believe that the DEA arose with the best of intentions and planning.   It just isn't so.  The story of the DEA is a story of the most cynical political motives, with no thought or attention to the real needs of the people of the United States.  We invite everyone to read Agency of Fear, the history of the origins of the DEA.

DEA Statement Response
The Drug Enforcement Administration has a long and proud history. Today's DEA is built in the successful tradition established by a number of federal drug agencies that preceded the DEA, ultimately united in 1973. The history of drug enforcement in this country is among the most shameful and disgraceful chapters of American history.  The laws were motivated by racism and the worst kind of ignorance and hysteria, and the enforcement power has always been used primarily against the most disadvantaged elements of our society.   That tradition continues through the modern day.

Our drug policy is lunacy and it was built by lunatics.  We recommend you read: Historical References, particularly, The History of Non-Medical Drug Use in the United States. and the historical portions of The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs.


The (Federal) Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was established in July 1930 when President Herbert Hoover appointed Harry J. Anslinger its first Commissioner of Narcotics, a position he held under four U.S. Presidents, spanning more than three decades. Anslinger was a lunatic.  That much seems clear.  We recommend you read the many references to him under  Historical References.
Mr. Anslinger believed that drug control in the United States was most effectively dealt with as close to the source as possible. Accordingly, he assigned FBN agents to various ports of entry, and personally reached agreements with the heads of 20 law enforcement agencies around the world to exchange drug intelligence. These efforts resulted in a dramatic rise in drug seizures in 1930. It resulted in a dramatic rise in seizures because previously there was very little effort put toward such seizures.

It should be noted that, to this day, these seizures have not materially diminished supply -- by the DEA's own estimates.

The FBN's main priorities during this period were cocaine and opiate cases; because of limited resources and personnel, marijuana cases were not a high priority. However, the marijuana problem grew during the 1930s. The FBN had no legal authority to do anything about marijuana at the time.

The DEA fails to note that the "marijuana problem" was the "Mexican problem".  As stated by Professor Charles Whitebread, the real reason for the marijuana laws was not opposition to marijuana, but opposition to the Mexican immigrants who smoked it.  See The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States, and The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge.

As the gloom of the Great Depression spread across the United States, so did the use of marijuana. Concurrently, politicians from states along the U.S.-Mexican border warned of a marijuana epidemic. By 1936, all 48 states had enacted legislation to control the cultivation of the cannabis plant, but its production and use were not prohibited by federal law. In 1937, Congress placed marijuana and hashish in the category of illegal, federally controlled drugs when it passed the Marijuana Tax Act. See the above references for the general history of the marijuana laws.  The DEA's attempt to say that the marijuana laws had something to do with good sense stretches credulity to say the least.  See for example, the full transcripts for the congressional hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act and Related Papers, taking particular note of the testimony of Harry Anslinger and Dr. Woodward, the representative for the American Medical Association.


With the advent of World War II, the Mediterranean Sea was effectively closed to drug traffic. International trafficking was suppressed to the point that heroin on the streets of the United States in 1940 was only five percent pure, and many addicts were reported to be in search of paregoric, an anti-diarrheal containing powdered opium. The heroin shortage resulted in a rise of thefts from pharmacies, hospitals, and other sources of legitimate drugs. And for the first time, barbiturates became recognizable as a potential drug abuse problem.

The post-war years brought new drug problems to the United States. Cocaine had been virtually non-existent since 1930, but began showing up at U.S. ports of entry, and was traced to clandestine factories in Peru. Until 1946, each new drug that came along, including synthetic drugs, required separate legislation before it could be controlled. Recognizing the inefficiency of this arrangement, the FBN was given blanket jurisdiction over all drugs. It should be noted here that the drug enforcement agents have slipped in the notion of "pre-emptive enforcement".  In other words, the situation is so dangerous (they would have us believe) that they must be allowed to make up prohibitions, without even any public legislative consideration of what the substance actually is, or what might be the best approach to controlling it. 
In the 1950s, Mexican opium made its way to New York, where it was refined into heroin, and then distributed to major cities throughout the United States. FBN agents began to see a rise in addiction in major metropolitan areas during this time, as well as a drop in the median age of drug offenders. Both the Boggs Act of 1951 and the Narcotic Control Act of 1956 imposed harsher penalties, as well as mandatory prison sentences, for narcotics violations. These two acts followed the general historical pattern of a perceived drug problem (invariably with no hard statistics to support any conclusion, pro, con, or indifferent), usually associated with a hated group.  In these particular cases, the hated group was the Communists who, it was feared, were importing drugs to enslave our youth.  As usual, it had no basis in reality.  The usual response to such a perceived problem.
America's social upheaval and experimentation with drugs in the early 1960s dictated that a new, tougher approach to fighting drugs was warranted. Accordingly, in 1966 a new federal enforcement unit, the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control (BDAC), directed by John Finlator, was created within the Food and Drug Administration. Its responsibility was to control stimulants such as methamphetamine and various hallucinogens. In the 1960s large numbers of young people began to experiment with drugs and something became immediately apparent to a lot of them -- that the drug enforcement authorities had not been telling the truth.  Consequently, they began to distrust any anti-drug message and openly embraced a pro-drug philosophy in large numbers.  

At the same time, the parents of these young people discovered that any policy which locked up young people for long periods of time over experimental drug use was fundamentally flawed.  See for example, from the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs:

Chapter 38 - How speed was popularized

Chapter 44 - How to launch a nationwide drug menace

Chapter 50 - How LSD was popularized, 1962-1969

Chapter 51 - How the hazards of LSD were augmented, 1962-1969

Chapter 57 - America discovers marijuana

In 1968, the Johnson Administration consolidated the FBN and BDAC by implementing Reorganization Plan Number 1 to establish, under the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD). In the same year, the British Government conducted its first major study of the marijuana problem, and found that the current policy was not justified by the evidence.  See the Wootton Commission Report.
Following this, Richard M. Nixon was elected president, partly on his promise to restore law and order to the nation. Nixon, who also created the DEA, later resigned for failing to uphold law and order among his own staff.

It was also during this time period that the CIA began its well-documented collusion with drug traffickers.  See, for example, The Politics of Heroin, by Professor Alfred McCoy, available in your local library.  See also An Interview with Alfred McCoy and The CIA and the Politics of Heroin.

On October 27, 1970, Congress passed the comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which replaced more than 50 pieces of drug legislation. Title II of the Act, known as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), gave Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce for drugs. It also established five schedules that classify controlled substances according to their potential for abuse. Drugs were placed into categories according to how dangerous they were, how great their potential for abuse, and whether they have any legitimate medical value. The reason this law had to be passed was because certain key elements of the previous laws were declared unconsitutional in the case of (Timothy) Leary v. US, 1969.  As a result, they pass the Controlled Substances Act which took the previous illogical classifications of drugs, again failed to include alcohol and tobacco as drugs, and put them under an ostensibly logical "schedule" which supposedly weighs the medical use against the perceived dangers of the drug. 

The falsity of this entire approach can be seen in the fact that marijuana -- recognized by all serious authorities as the least dangerous of all the drugs -- is in Schedule 1, warranting the toughest penalties, and heroin is entirely prohibited even though there is no significant medical distinction between heroin and legally prescribed morphine.

During this period, BNDD's budget more than quadrupled. Its agent force grew to 1,361 by February 1972, and its foreign and domestic arrest totals doubled. In addition, BNDD had regulatory control over more than 500,000 registrants licensed to distribute licit drugs. It also had six of the most complete forensic laboratories in the world. As a result, the United States began its climb to being the world leader in imprisoning its own citizens, particularly those of minority descent.   See the publications of the Sentencing Project.

Also as a result, the US Government inadvertently nearly eliminated the legal sources of opiates for legitimate purposes, while doing relatively little to solve the long-term heroin problems.  See The Coughing Crisis from Agency of Fear.

Moreover, BNDD was not alone in fighting drugs. The U.S. Customs Service had a Drug Investigations Unit to deal with drug smuggling. Also, the FBI was being drawn deeper into the drug war as organized crime became increasingly more involved in drug trafficking activities. It should be noted that the reason organized crime came into the drug business was because of the tremendous profits behind prohibited drugs -- the same thing Al Capone discovered in the 1920s.
Acknowledging the growth of cocaine processing in South America and heroin refining in Southeast Asia, President Nixon agreed with Congress to implement Reorganization Plan Number 2, which consolidated all federal anti-drug forces under a single unified command within the Department of Justice. This elite drug-fighting organization, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), was created on July 1, 1973. This is not the entire truth.  The entire drug scare was a creation of the Nixon administration, created with doctored statistics which seemed to change as it was politically expedient.  The DEA was, in fact, Richard Nixon's attempt to create his own private extralegal police force which would have broad powers, outside the realm of anything previously legally allowed in the US, and intended to be used against his political enemies.  For a history of the creation of the DEA in the Nixon White House, see Agency of Fear.  

The DEA was, in fact, the result of a deliberate attempt by Richard M. Nixon and his staff to subvert the law enforcement system to their own political goals.

An Executive Order abolished the Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs, the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement, and the Office of National Narcotics Intelligence, and placed their combined functions in the new DEA. (See DEA Genealogy.) This consolidation was undertaken to unify drug investigations, to create a single federal drug intelligence data base, and to establish clear liaison between federal drug agents and their state and local, as well as foreign, counterparts. Twenty years later, the DEA remains the only U.S. agency whose sole mission is to combat drug trafficking. The reason the consolidation was desired was not to be more effective in the fight against drugs, but to consolidate Nixon's extralegal powers.   The reason it was acheived by Executive Order, rather than by congressional legislation, was to avoid the public review and evaluation of the idea.  See Agency of Fear - Lost Horizons
Not only is the Drug Enforcement Administration the lead agency for domestic enforcement of federal drug laws, but it also has sole responsibility for coordinating and pursuing U.S. drug investigations abroad. The DEA is dedicated to conceptualizing and implementing the most effective drug law enforcement strategy possible one that complements and energizes our state and local counterparts, and one that charts the course for and harmonizes the efforts of all other federal agencies with drug enforcement or drug intelligence responsibilities. Bottom line, this is a lot of baloney to cover a lot of obvious failures. 
The DEA also plays a vital role in supporting useful demand reduction and user accountability programs. The "demand reduction" program is primarily an attempt to influence people not to support efforts at reform.  The primary duty of the "demand reduction" agents is to give presentations about how bad "legalization" (usually undefined, except to assume the worst on all counts) is.   Oddly enough, when these "demand reduction" agents are called upon to make a balanced presentation with someone of a differing opinion, they always decline.   The DEA is afraid to discuss this subject in public.
Given the magnitude and pervasiveness of the illegal drug problem, one component of a successful drug enforcement strategy is crucial: the need to work closely with other law enforcement organizations - federal, state, local, and foreign. In the 1990s, this DEA strategy has formed the basis for mult-iorganizational and cooperative approaches to better address drug trafficking on a regional, national, and international scale. By all accounts, the various agencies are still disorganized and ineffective and, by their own admission, have no hope of stopping, or even significantly reducing, drug trafficking in the United States.



Travel back to the DRCNet Response to the DEA Home Page

Travel back to the DRCNet List of DEA Publications

Travel back to the Table of Contents