Laws On Personal Vices Have Changed Greatly

Laws On Personal Vices Have Changed Greatly
Posted by FoM on January 09, 2000 at 11:42:42 PT
Source: Pioneer Planet
When the 20th century began, it was illegal to sell cigarettes in 14 states, and selling a lottery ticket was a federal crime.Cigarettes are a ``noxious'' product, the Supreme Court said in 1900 as it upheld Tennessee's prohibition on sales. And lotteries are a ``widespread pestilence'' that must be killed off, the court ruled three years later.At the same time, narcotics such as opium, morphine and heroin were sold over the counter and from mail-order catalogs as balms for what one writer called the ``nervous pace of modern life.''
The evolution of U.S. laws on personal vices makes for one of the oddest, most fascinating chapters of 20th century legal history.Unlike, for example, the universal recognition of murder and robbery as crimes, judgments on crimes of bad behavior have come and gone, riding on the tides of public opinion.``Our notion of what is immoral behavior has changed drastically,'' said Yale law professor Steven Duke. ``The pendulum has swung back and forth.''The debate about which vices to regulate -- and how best to regulate them -- raged in each era and continues today.Since 1980, the government has pursued a ``war on drugs'' with the full force of criminal law. In recent years, more than 60 percent of the inmates in federal prisons have been put there for drug-related crimes, due to the mandatory-sentencing laws passed by Congress in the mid-1980s.These laws proved especially powerful because they imposed fixed prison terms on someone caught with a certain amount of an illegal substance, regardless of whether it was the violator's first offense or whether the violator was a minor players in a big drug ring.Yet, far from easing off, the Senate on a 50-49 vote moved in November to impose new mandatory prison terms for low-level cocaine dealers. The Powder Cocaine Sentencing Act would trigger a five-year prison term for someone with 50 grams of cocaine, down from 500 grams under current law. The bill will be taken up by the House this year.A century ago, narcotics were not seen as evil substances, although their addictive qualities were becoming well known. Instead, lawmakers focused their ire on cigarettes and gambling.In the late 19th century, chewing tobacco and pipes were considered safe and traditional, while the newly popular cigarettes were viewed as dangerous and disreputable.As a product, ``they possess no virtue but are inherently bad and bad only,'' the Tennessee Supreme Court said. It upheld a criminal charge against William Austin, a merchant who had ordered a crate of cigarettes from the American Tobacco Co. in Durham, N.C. The legislature is entitled to act for ``the protection of the people from an unmitigated evil,'' such as cigarettes, the state judges said.The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, on a 6-3 vote, noting that the ``public press has been denouncing the use (of cigarettes) as fraught with great danger to the youth of both sexes.''Be realistic, the three dissenters responded. ``During the year 1899, 2,805,130,737 cigarettes were manufactured in the United States,'' and ``there is no consensus of opinion . . . as to the greatness of the supposed evil.''Still, the legal attack continued through the first two decades of this century.Gambling also was under attack. Lottery tickets that moved through the mail from any ``enterprise offering prizes dependent upon lot or chance'' were illegal under federal law.Although horse racing or card games are confined to a few, a lottery ``infests the whole community,'' the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1903. ``It enters every dwelling. It reaches every class. It preys upon the hard earnings of the poor. It plunders the ignorant and simple.''Narcotics were viewed in a kinder light. The patent medicines of the era were laced with morphine.In 1899, the Bayer Co. of Germany developed two pain medications that proved instantly popular. One was sodium acetyl salicylic acid and was named Aspirin. The other, diacetylmorphine, was added to cough syrups. It was named Heroin.Cocaine was commonly found in tonics and was the recommended treatment for those with hay fever and sinus trouble. Until 1903, it was added to the newly popular soda known as Coca-Cola.Cocaine was ``considered a pick-me-up, a brain food,'' said Yale historian David Musto.By the 1920s, however, the tides had reversed. In the wave of sentiment for Prohibition, alcohol and narcotics were seen as ruinously addictive, and their sale was banned under federal law. Heroin, which proved to be especially addictive, was brought under federal law in 1924.But the cigarette bans were lifted, and smoking became a glamorous, all-American habit. By midcentury, more than half of American men and one-third of women smoked regularly.Nevada became an oasis for legal gambling in the 1930s. Lotteries did not spread across the country until the 1970s, as the same governments that had prosecuted gamblers and the so-called numbers racket decided to promote lotteries as a source of instant riches for state coffers.It would seem that the nation can carry on only one prohibition crusade at a time. Four years after the prohibition on alcohol was repealed in 1933, federal authorities adopted a new prohibition on marijuana.Musto has tracked the rise and fall of the temperance movements in alcohol and drugs over two centuries. ``The pattern has been repeated,'' he says: The opponents gain steam but go too far, thereby spurring a backlash.Published: January 9, 2000 2000 PioneerPlanet - St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press
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Comment #1 posted by Jeff Christen-Mitche on January 10, 2000 at 05:19:08 PT:
Good News in Missouri
The achilles heel of the drug war may be the connection between special interests and our affordable legislators. Read as money flow. There may be a way to sever that connection.   Missouri Voters for Fair Elections are campaigning for The Fair Elections Initiative. Designed to limit the cost and length of election campaigns, Allows a system for public funding so that a candidate need not accept private money and limits "soft money" contributions. 314 531-9630 in St.Louis and 816 931-6996 in Kansas City. Reason and education are not enough to fight this evil war, eliminate the profit motive to a certain degree and just maybe the pol's will be responsive. 
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