The Altered States of America
1619 Jamestown farmers ordered to grow hemp. Three colonies later allow subjects to pay taxes with the plant.
1776 Declaration of Independence drafted on hemp paper.
1869 Prohibition Party founded. Central goals include women's suffrage and freeing the working class from the evils of drink.
1874 WCTU (Woman's Christian Temperance Union) founded.
1875 San Francisco bans opium dens.
1886 Coca-Cola created by Atlanta druggist and ex-Confederate officer. Contains cocaine. Southerners call it "a shot in the arm" and trucks selling Coke "dope wagons."
June 19, 1986 College basketball star Len Bias dies of a drug overdose, triggering severe increases in penalties for crack, though Bias OD'd on powdered cocaine.
Oct 27, 1986 Ronald Reagan budgets $1.7 billion for drug war, federalizes Rockefeller law-style mandatory minimums.
1987 As Carlos Salinas runs for president of Mexico, his brother Raul begins working for the cartels.
1987 Partnership for a Drug-Free America launches "This is your brain on drugs" ad.
1988 Reagan creates Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), making the drug czar a Cabinet-level position. Czar William Bennett campaigns to make drug abuse socially unacceptable, a strategy he calls "denormalization."
1903 NY Daily Tribune links cocaine with black crime and calls for legal action against Coca-Cola, which quietly switches to "spent" coca leaves.
1912 Twelve countries sign First International Opium Convention, agreeing to "use their best endeavors" to clamp down on "morphine, cocaine, and their respective salts."
1914 Opiates, cocaine effectively outlawed.
1914 William Randolph Hearst starts campaign against cannabis, in part for fear that hemp paper could undercut his wood-pulp market share. His papers usher the word "marihuana" into the English language in articles about reefer-crazed blacks raping white women and playing "voodoo-satanic" jazz music. When Pancho Villa's army seizes Hearst estates during Mexican Revolution, he denounces Mexicans as lazy drug addicts.
Jan 16, 1919 Alliance between WCTU, Prohibition Party, Progressives, Ku Klux Klan, and Kansas reformers helps ratify 18th Amendment, outlawing "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors." Drinking still legal.
1919-1933 Bootlegging fuels organized crime. By Prohibition's end, arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct up 41%; federal prison population up 366%.
1929 Montana outlaws pot because, as one doctor explains, "When some beet field peon takes a few traces of this stuff...he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico, so he starts out to execute all his political enemies."
1930 Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) created. Chief Harry J. Anslinger pushes for harsh punishments for drug possession.
1932 Progressives now against Prohibition. FDR campaigns for president promising its repeal.
Dec 5, 1933 21st Amendment repeals Prohibition. Organized crime plummets overnight.
1936 Church group finances Tell Your Children, a film about the manslaughter, suicide, rape, and insanity that ensue when kids try pot. Bought by exploitation film producer, who renames it Reefer Madness.
Aug 2, 1937 FDR signs bill effectively outlawing marijuana.
1942 USDA films Hemp for Victory to promote production for war effort.
1950s FBN chief Anslinger provides Sen. Joe McCarthy morphine for fear that exposing his addiction would put country at risk. "On the day he died," Anslinger later writes, "I thanked God for relieving me of my burden."
1950s-1960s CIA program MKULTRA uses LSD to conduct mind-control and chemical interrogation experiments on unwitting subjects.
1967 The BBC refuses to play the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," because of the apparent reference to LSD. John Lennon maintains the song was inspired by a picture drawn by his son Julian.
Jan 14, 1967 Former Harvard prof Timothy Leary goes to San Francisco's Human Be-In and utters the immortal "Turn on, tune in, drop out."
1968 Tom Wolfe publishes The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Sept 1969 To combat marijuana imports, US launches Operation Intercept, searching all traffic along the Mexican border for 3 weeks and costing both countries millions.
Aug 23, 1970 A New York Times Magazine article concludes, "It is now the very rare college student who has never tried [marijuana]."
Oct 27, 1970 The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act reduces penalties for marijuana possession. Also allows police to conduct "no-knock" searches and establishes five "schedules" of drugs based on their medicinal value and potential for addiction.
Sept 5, 1989 President George H.W. Bush unveils anti-drug program by holding up 3 ounces of crack purchased by DEA agents "in a park across the street from the White House." It is later revealed that agents entrapped the dealer—a high school student.
Dec 1989 Citing drug trafficking, Bush invades Panama and deposes former ally Noriega. GAO later reports drug trafficking "may have doubled" and money laundering "flourished" following the invasion.
Nov 1991 While trying to stop a coke shipment, Mexican federales are killed by Mexican soldiers in the pay of Colombian cartels. One general imprisoned, then quietly released.
1991 New Jack City is a major box-office hit. The movie provides fodder for hip-hop artists including Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Biggie Smalls.
1992 Salinas severely restricts DEA agents operating in Mexico.
Dec 1993 Colombian police kill Medellín chief Pablo Escobar using US cell phone-trace technology.
1994 NAFTA increases border traffic, making it easier to smuggle.
1994 War on Drugs now imprisons 1 million people a year.
May 1995 Sentencing Commission urges Congress to remedy race-based disparities for cocaine and crack sentencing. Congress ignores it.
Nov 1995 Federales spotted unloading a drug plane belonging to Colombia's Cali cartel.
1996 Cali cartel dismantled. Mexican cartels now ascendant, especially the Gulf cartel, which recruits elite soldiers to form the cartel's feared armed wing, Los Zetas.
1996 Gary Webb publishes "Dark Alliance" series in the San Jose Mercury News accusing CIA of helping contras smuggle cocaine into the US during the 1980s. Webb is discredited by media, is demoted, resigns, and commits suicide in 2004. Internal CIA probe ultimately corroborates many of Webb's claims.
1997 Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) blocks the nomination of Massachusetts governor William Weld as ambassador to Mexico, saying that the Republican's support for medical marijuana and needle exchange programs makes him unfit to serve.
1997 C.R.A.C.K. (Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity), a California nonprofit, offers $200 to any drug-addicted woman who agrees to be sterilized or get birth-control implants. Founder Barbara Harris explains, "We don't allow dogs to breed...We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children."
1998 Congress requires drug czar to oppose legalization of drugs and any research on legalization.
Jan 10, 1998 Onion article declares, "Drugs Win Drug War."
1998-2000 Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey pays TV networks to include anti-drug content in shows like Beverly Hills, 90210.
1999 California cracks down on meth labs, driving production to Mexico, fueling cartel revenue, addiction, and violent crime.
2000 Clinton's $1.3 billion Plan Colombia provides country with helicopters, crop dusters, and surveillance planes. Eight years and $6 billion later, coca crop has expanded 15%.
Jan 8, 2001 Ronald Reagan's 22-year-old grandson, Cameron, is ordered to spend 90 days in a drug rehab program after pleading guilty to marijuana possession.
Jan 19, 2001 Sinaloa cartel head Joaquín Guzmán "escapes" from supermax Mexican prison.
June 17, 1971 Borrowing language from LBJ's War on Poverty, Richard Nixon declares War on Drugs, calling narcotics "public enemy No. 1." For the only time during the War on Drugs, the majority of funding goes toward treatment.
1972 US and French law enforcement bust the "French Connection," a smuggling operation controlled by Corsican gangsters and the Mafia, resulting in a heroin shortage on the East Coast.
March 1972 Nixon-ordered Shafer Commission recommends decriminalization, finding that "neither the marihuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety." Nixon ignores the report.
May 8, 1973 NY gov. Nelson Rockefeller signs law establishing mandatory minimums.
July 1973 Nixon forms Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
1975 President's commission headed by Rockefeller reveals MKULTRA program. CIA admits it had little scientific purpose.
Nov 1975 Colombian police seize 600 kilos of cocaine. Traffickers respond with "Medellín Massacre."
1976 Jimmy Carter runs for president; pledges to decriminalize pot.
1977 Eric Clapton releases "Cocaine."
April 26, 1977 Studio 54 opens. Dance floor is decorated with "man in the moon" image complete with cocaine spoon.
May 30, 1977 Newsweek reports, "Among hostesses in the smart sets of Los Angeles and New York, a little cocaine, like Dom Pérignon and Beluga caviar, is now de rigueur at dinners." The article cautions that cocaine can be dangerous but "a number of researchers have concluded that it can be safer than liquor and cigarettes when used discriminately."
Aug 16, 1977 Elvis dies; at least 10 legal drugs in system.
July 21, 1978 After aides admit to smoking pot, Carter drops push to decriminalize.
1978 Medellín cartel cofounder Carlos Lehder buys a 165-acre island in the Bahamas, which is used as refueling spot for planes flying drugs from Colombia to the United States until 1983.
1982 Panamanian leader General Manuel Noriega cuts a deal with Pablo Escobar to allow the Medellín cartel to ship cocaine through Panama.
1982 To cut off main point of entry of drugs into US, Vice President George H.W. Bush heads the South Florida Drug Task Force. Trade moves to Mexican border.
Oct 9, 1982 Sen. Joe Biden coins the term "drug czar."
1983 Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), a program in which police officers talk to kids about drug use, is founded in Los Angeles.
Nov 6, 1984 The DEA and Mexican agents raid five marijuana farms in the Chihuahua desert and seize 9,000 tons of marijuana worth an estimated $4 billion. US officials declare the event the "Bust of the Century." The previous bust record was 570 tons.
Jan 29, 2002 Noelle Bush, daughter of Florida governor Jeb Bush and niece of President Bush, is arrested for forging a Xanax prescription. During her court-ordered rehab, she is found with two grams of cocaine and is sentenced to 10 days in jail.
Feb 3, 2002 ONDCP spends $3.4 million on Super Bowl ads warning, "Where do terrorists get their money? If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you."
Nov 5, 2002 Nelson Rockefeller's granddaughter, Meile, is arrested for protesting the harshness of the Rockefeller Drug Laws in front of the New York governor's office.
2003 80% of US school districts now have much-touted DARE programs. GAO finds "no significant differences in illicit drug use between students who received DARE...and students who did not."
2004 War on Terror and War on Drugs officially merge in the Kabul Counternarcotics Implementation Plan. Three years later, Afghanistan has record opium crop.
Feb 25, 2004 Thirty leading doctors and scientists issue a letter asking the press to stop using the term "crack baby." "None of us," the researchers explain, "has identified a recognizable condition, syndrome or disorder that should be termed 'crack baby.'" One of the signatories is Dr. Ira Chasnoff.
2005 US v. Booker allows judges to deviate from federal mandatory minimums. Median possession sentences fall 56% overnight.
June 2005 Harvard economist estimates $10-$14 billion in savings and tax revenue if pot is legalized. 500 economists, including 3 Nobel laureates, sign letter in support.
Jan 2006 Authorities announce the discovery of a half-mile-long tunnel linking a warehouse in Tijuana to a warehouse in the United States where 200 pounds of marijuana were found.
Dec 2006 Mexican president Felipe Calderón declares war on the cartels, deploys 45,000 troops. Thousands of gang members killed; smuggling routes disrupted. Instability leads to rise in violence among cartels and between cartels and the Army.
March 2007 The Lancet reports that as far as drug prohibition goes, "the exclusion of alcohol and tobacco...is, from a scientific perspective, arbitrary."
2008 US Mérida Initiative allocates $1.4 billion to combat Mexican drug trade. Mexican politicians protest conditions requiring human rights monitoring.
2008 An ad by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America advises parents to talk to their kids about drug use, but notes that there is "no need to reveal you smoked marijuana 132 times."
Jan 2009 NY gov. David Paterson says, "I can't think of a criminal justice strategy that has been more unsuccessful than the Rockefeller drug laws."
March 2009 Forbes names Sinaloa cartel leader Guzmán the world's 701st richest person. Lists industry as "shipping."
Mid-1980s Crack epidemic hits poor US neighborhoods.
Feb 1985 DEA agent Enrique Camarena is kidnapped and murdered in Mexico. The Mexicans' lack of cooperation leads US to launch a crackdown on the Mexican border. Camarena's body is found within a month, as is evidence of Mexican cover-up.
Sept 12, 1985 Dr. Ira Chasnoff writes article for the New England Journal of Medicine warning that cocaine use by pregnant women could lead to developmental problems. Media begin making wildly exaggerated claims about "crack babies."
1986 Reagan signs National Security Directive No. 221, expressing concern over narcostates, "where a combination of international criminal trafficking organizations, rural insurgents, and urban terrorists can undermine the stability of the local government."
March 2009 Almost 11,000 dead since Calderón declared war on the cartels.
March 11, 2009 Obama demotes drug czar from Cabinet.
May 13, 2009 Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske says he wants to banish term "War on Drugs" and favor treatment over incarceration to reduce illicit drug use.
2009 40% of the 288,000 Americans admitted to rehab for marijuana use have not used the drug in the month prior to their admission. Roughly 2/3 are there as part of a deal to avoid jail time.