Americas love affair with all things illegal, immoral or fattening. We all think drugs were a 60s thing and that any reference to narcotics was something vaguely heard about, mostly in reference to Jazz Musicians of the 1920’s and 1930s.
Truth is – drugs have been with us a very long time – their illegality has been something imposed since the 1920s. But before then, you could go to your local pharmacy and pick up a bottle of Hashish oil or Morphine, cough syrup with Heroin – even early Coca-Cola was widely rumored to having Cocaine in its “magic formula”. Marijuana grew in open fields all over the country, and not many people gave it too much thought.
The question of legality was something that came along with the 20th century. For reasons which are many and often confusing, Drugs like Alcohol during the First World War became illegal to have and use. But where Alcohol prohibition was repealed in the early 1930s, owing to the vast amount of crime associated with it, drugs stayed illegal – and the level of crime associated with it stayed the same, and in fact rose steadily over the years.
Once you tell people they can’t have something, the natural tendency is to want it all that much more. And that’s not to say the addictive part of drugs didn’t factor into it. But then, alcohol was just as addictive to many and the social wreckage from its misuse was just as wide, if not wider, than drug use.
By the 1950s, with the Cold War and the fear element of America being overrun by Communists taking over the media and our daily lives, drug use and it’s epidemic among youth was tagged as part of “the communist conspiracy”.
And so documentaries, news programs, discussion programs, religious sermons and even high school assemblies were devoted to exposing the epidemic nature of drug addiction – how it became a tool of organized crime (much the same as Alcohol did in the 1920s) and how it was responsible for ruining countless lives and bringing untold amounts of heartache throughout the neighborhoods and communities of Heartland and Big City America.
This episode of the popular NBC Radio News program Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow devoted the first of three weeks of programs to the issue. How, even in 1951, dope was our problem and we were powerless to stop it.
And some 60+ years later, it’s still a problem. Some things just never change. Or like they always say: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”.