18 Facts About America's Long and Costly War on Drugs

The American victory in the Spanish American War increased the number of foreign nationals under American control and led to a clamor for drug laws to control their behavior. Wikimedia

2. The Spanish American War helped lead to the early drug laws

The American victory over Spain in the brief war of 1898 transferred the Philippines to the jurisdiction of the United States, and transferred a significant opium addiction problem with it. An Episcopal bishop named Charles H. Brent led a commission to study the opium problem in the Philippines and recommended that opium based narcotics, as well as cocaine, should be controlled by an international organization. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt concurred, and the United States sent a contingent to the International Opium Commission, a conference held in Shanghai in 1909, followed by a second conference at The Hague in 1911. The following year the International Opium Convention, a treaty to control the availability of narcotics, was put into effect. The convention stated that the member nations would “use their best endeavors” to control the manufacture, distribution, and use of morphine, other opiates, and cocaine.

The convention neither prohibited nor criminalized the possession or use of drugs. Both the United States and China, a major opium producer, were steadily leaning toward an outright prohibition of the use of drugs, in the United States as a part of the drive towards the prohibition of alcohol. In 1925 the United States proposed another convention, which was held in Geneva. The Convention added marijuana and derivatives of Indian hemp to the list of proscribed substances, noting that it, “not being at present utilized for medical purposes and only being susceptible of utilization for harmful purposes, in the same manner as other narcotics, may not be produced, sold, traded in, etc., under any circumstances whatsoever”. The United States, supported by India and China, recommended that hashish be added to the wording of the convention when it was registered with the League of Nations, of which the United States was not a member.