A Project of the Coast Guard Aviation Association

Coast Guard Aviation and the Drug War

By John Moseley, CGAA Historian


The counter cultural movement of the 1960s is not America’s first experience with a resourceful drug culture. In many instances drugs that became illegal were first introduced by doctors as legal over-the-counter and prescription medications. Marijuana is one of the first drugs used in the United States. Amphetamines came into use by the medical community in the 1920s to stimulate the central nervous system and for blood pressure problems. Amphetamines were distributed to soldiers during World War II to combat fatigue and improve endurance and mood, and were prescribed by doctors after the war to help fight depression. Morphine was created in 1803 and widely used during the American Civil War. In 1886 the Surgeon-General of the United States Army endorsed medical use of cocaine. Over the next few decades various unregulated medicinal “tonics” were sold in the U.S. containing cocaine. Cocaine was outlawed in 1914. Usage declined until it regained popularity in the 1970s as a recreational, glamorized drug, eventually reaching its peak in 1982 with 10.4 million users. LSD first emerged during the 1950s and escalated during the 1960s.

On December 17, 1914 Congress passed the Harrison Act, This law provided for the registration with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax on all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes. However, the most lasting impact was in how it shifted the public conversation from a discussion about regulating a legal activity to eliminating an illegal one American opinion has always included some opposition to the non-medical use of any drug, including alcohol and most recently tobacco.



Historical Narratives