From its discovery, circa fourth century B.C., until around the late 1800s, opium was used in equal measure as a medicinal herb and recreational drug. In its heyday in the eighteenth century it was used by a who’s who of high society, and sparked international conflicts concerning its growth and distribution. Even as those wars were going on, a realization was growing that opium was an addictive substance, its risks outweighing the benefits. To curb the potential abuse Several governments began considering regulation of the drug by law.
On this day, October 30, in 1890, Oakland, California enacted a law making narcotics like opium, morphine and cocaine available by doctor’s prescription only. Oakland’s law was part of a trend of many municipalities and some states passing laws against mind-altering substances, both chemical and alcoholic.
The trend continued to expand to the national level: by 1905, Congress banned opium, and the following year, passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, requiring drug makers to list all the contents of their medicine, to ensure opium would not sneak into a solution of something. A decade later the Harrison Narcotics Act required everyone involved in production, distribution or sale of narcotics to register with the federal government and pay a tax — the point being not so much the tax as the government’s ability to keep track of everyone in the drug trade and go after them for any slight infraction.