Modern Drug, Modern Menace: The Legal Use and Distribution of Cocaine in the United States, 1880 to 1920
This paper explores the ways in which cocaine was bought, sold, and consumed in the years prior to its legal prohibition. Much previous historical inquiry has focused on chronicling anti-drug legislation with the dual intent of locating the roots of contemporary drug policy, and linking legislation to trends in drug use and drug users' experiences. This paper suggests, however, that legislative developments alone cannot account for the changing patterns of cocaine's sale and use. Making extensive use of the records of those who legally distributed cocaine, including physicians, retail druggists, and drug manufacturers, this paper contends that, prior to prohibition, patterns in the legal use and distribution of cocaine underwent a substantial transformation. As a consequence of this transformation, cocaine was, by the turn of the century, feared as a menace to society. The response to these changes was a vigorous attempt to enforce standards of appropriate use through informal controls, such as voluntary limits on drugstore cocaine sales, and more formal methods, such as police treatment of cocaine sellers and users as a public nuisance. These developments suggest that there were loosely defined ideas of "legitimate" and "illegitimate" sales and use which affected the market for cocaine, even in the absence of laws which formalized those definitions. The impact of public response made cocaine's status as a legal drug small comfort to many users.