DRUGS AND THE LAW: THE DEVELOPMENT OF CONTROL

AuthorH. Teff
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1972.tb01330.x
Publication Date01 May 1972
THE
MODERN
LAW
REVIEW
Volume
35
May
1972
No.
3
DRUGS
AND
THE
LAW:
THE
DEVELOPMENT
OF
CONTROL
IN
recent years there has been growing interest in this country in
drug dependence.= Evident changes in drug-taking patterns and the
marked rise in the number of addicts in the
1960s
have given added
impetus to research into possible causes and methods of treatment.
They have also prompted a substantial amount of legi~lation,~ and
it is therefore desirable to focus some attention on legal aspects of
control and the ways in which the law has reflected attitudes, and
perhaps helped to shape them.
It
is proposed to consider, fist, how control has developed and;
secondly, some of the difficulties of establishing an effective legal
framework for
it.
In particular, it will be argued that drugs legisla-
tion poses formidable initial problems of definition and classification,
which legal terminology has tended to obscure. The Misuse of Drugs
Act
1971
is to be welcomed as an attempt to replace
. .
.
the
present rigid and ramshackle collection of Drugs Acts by a single
comprehensive Measure.
. . .”
But it also illustrates that this
is
a
field which is not easily amenable to regulation by the
law.
THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY BACKGROUND
Relatively little was known about drug dependence in the nineteenth
century. Self-diagnosis and self-medication, aimed almost exclu-
sively at symptomatic relief, were regarded as normal, and
laudanum, at a few pence per ounce, and cheap patent medicines,
were literally
cc
the opiate of the people.” At the same time, the
1
Preferred
to
addiction
”;
of.
World
Health Organisation Tech. Rep. Ser.
196A
No.
287,
4,
5,
6.
And see
infra,
p.
238.
But eince
addiction
and
addict
have become
80
integral
a
part
of
the literature, it is not proposed to dispense
with them here.
2
See
infra,
p.
228,
n.
17.
3
See
infra,
p.
227
et
seq.
4
The Home Secretary, H.C.Deb.,
Vol.
790,
Pt.
2,
cols.
189-190
(October
29,
1969),
introducing
a
Bil! substantially adopted by the new Administration.
5
See
A.
Hayter,
Opium
and
the
Romantic Imagination,
Faber
(1969),
Chap.
1.
225
VOL.
35
1
226
THE
MODERN
LAW
REVIEW
VOL.
36
morphine cult, with its literary associations,6 became fashionable
among the upper classes. Doctors commonly recommended opium
and its derivatives for nearly all ills,’ not surprisingly, since safe
anaesthetic techniques only began to be developed in the middle of
the century.
Given this background, it seems strange, at first sight, that,
despite an almost total absence of controls until the
1850~,~
drug
addiction, unlike alcoholism,9 did not attract the attention of social
commentators and historians.
For
even if
our
information is
inadequate, and statistics then virtually non-existent, the dramatic
symptoms associated with opiate addiction would hardly have gone
unnoticed if the problem existed on a substantial scale. However,
many may have died without their deaths being seen in terms of an
addiction problem.’O
Though England’s opium trade with China and the
‘‘
Opium
Wars
of
1839-42
and
1857-58
drew Parliament’s attention to the
exploitation in drug-trafficking, the detailed Royal Commission
on
Opium of
1895
concluded both that the drug’s harmful effects had
been greatly exaggerated, and that to prohibit its production entirely
would be too injurious to India’s economy. But by the turn of the
century new developments had taken place. Heroin was discovered
in
1898.
Opium exports to the West had steadily risen, partly
precipitated by the influx of cheap Chinese labour
;
and the growing
tendency to use hypodermic syringes carried with it a considerable
risk of infection.
In
1912,
the Hague International Opium Convention was held,
in the words of the Preamble:
To
bring about the gradual
sup-
pression of the abuse of opium, morphia and cocaine, as also of the
drugs prepared
or
derived from these substances.” Though
trafficking greatly increased during the First World War, a corres-
ponding awareness developed of the dangers. Ratification of the
Treaty of Versailles was deemed
to
involve ratification of the Hague
Convention, and signatories were required to enact appropriate
domestic legislation. In this way, the Dangerous Drugs Act
1920
emerged as the first substantial attempt in English law to establish
controls.
6
e.g.
the poetry of Coleiidge, and
De
Quincey’s
Confessions of
an
English
Opi~inl
Eater
(1822).
7
The saying attributed to Sydenham
(c.
1670),
Without opium there
would
be
no
medicine,” was almost
as
appropriate in the 19th century.
8
C/.
R.
Goulding,
I‘
The Statistics of Drug Addiction,”
Medicine, Science
and
the
Law
(1968),
Vol.
8,
Xo.
4,
pp.
466-267.
9
See
infra,
p. 228,
as
to
whether alcohol could be classified
as
a
drug
for legal
purposes.
10
The earliest legal controls were not introduced as a means of combating addic-
tion, hut formed part
of
the general statutory regulation of poisons, aimed at
the potential felon;
e.g.
the Pharmacy Act 1858 and the Offences against the
Person Act 1861,
e.g.
ss.
22, 23,
24,
58, 59.

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