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Legal References on Drug Policy

Federal Court Decisions on Drugs by Decade


1900 1910 1920 1930 1940
1950 1960 1970 1980 1990
Year Title and Summary

US Supreme Court

UNITED STATES v. JOHNSON. -  May 29, 1911

"This is an indictment for delivering . . . packages and bottles of medicine bearing labels that stated or implied that the contents were effective in curing cancer, the defendant well knowing that such representations were false. . . . 

The question is whether the articles were misbranded within the meaning of 2 of the Food and Drugs Act of June 30, 1906, c. 3915, 34 Stat. 768, making the delivery of misbranded drugs a punishable offense. . . .

From the point of view necessary to be taken by a legislature, these statements of cure-all properties of patent medicines are not in any real scientific sense matters of opinion. They are charlatanic and their falseness is generally demonstrable without real dispute."

US Supreme Court


This case decided whether caffeine in Coca-Cola was an "adulterant."

US Supreme Court


. .  defendants, were charged . .  with having cocaine in their possession . . .

The drug was shipped from St. Louis in (a) box . . .. the defendants were prevented from showing permission from the Treasury Department to export a quantity of cocaine to Mexico. Such permission and the purpose of weighing the contents of the box were decided to be immaterial, possession alone being determinative of guilt.

We think the rulings were error. Judgment reversed


US Supreme Court

U. S. v. DOREMUS , 249 U.S. 86 (1919) - No. 367.

 Doremus was indicted for violating section 2 of the so-called Harrison Narcotic Drug Act. Act . . .  the District Court held the section unconstitutional for the reason that it was not a revenue measure, and was an invasion of the police power reserved to the state. . .

Considering the full power of Congress over excise taxation the decisive question here is: Have the provisions in question any relation to the raising of revenue? . . .  Congress, . . .  inserted these provisions in an act specifically providing for the raising of revenue. Considered of themselves, we think they tend to keep the traffic aboveboard and subject to inspection by those authorized to collect the revenue.


US Supreme Court

WEBB, et al. v. United States, 249 U.S. 96 (1919) -No. 370.

'Webb was a practicing physician and Goldbaum a retail druggist, in Memphis. It was Webb's regular custom [249 U.S. 96, 98] and practice to prescribe morphine for habitual users, upon their application to him therefor. He furnished these 'prescriptions,' not after consideration of the applicant's individual case, and in such quantities and with such direction as, in his judgment, would tend to cure the habit, or as might be necessary or helpful in an attempt to break the habit, but with such consideration and rather in such quantities as the applicant desired for the sake of continuing his accustomed use. . . .

Upon these facts the Circuit Court of Appeals propounds to this court three questions:

1. 'Does the first sentence of section 2 of the Harrison Act prohibit retail sales of morphine by druggists to persons who have no physician's prescription, who have no order blank therefor and who cannot obtain an order blank because not of the class to which such blanks are allowed to be issued?'

2. 'If the answer to question one is in the affirmative, does this construction make unconstitutional the prohibition of such sale?'

3. 'If a practicing and registered physician issues an order for morphine to an habitual user thereof, the order not being issued by him in the course of professional treatment in the attempted cure of the habit, but being issued for the purpose of providing the user with morphine sufficient to keep him comfortable by maintaining his customary use, is such order a physician's prescription under exception (b) of section 2?'

'If question one is answered in the negative, or question two in the affirmative, no answer to question three will be necessary; and if question three is answered in the affirmative, questions one and two become immaterial.'

What we have said of the construction and purpose of the act in No. 367 plainly requires that question one should be answered in the affirmative. Question two should be answered in the negative for the reasons stated in the opinion in No. 367. As to question three-to call such an order for the use of morphine a physician's prescription would be so plain a perversion of meaning that [249 U.S. 96, 100] no discussion of the subject is required. That question should be answered in the negative.