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Illegal Heroin and United States Law

There is no such thing as legal heroin in the United States. Classified as a Schedule I narcotic, heroin is illegal in any amount and any form. Whether it’s white heroin, black tar heroin or brown powdered heroin, if you have it in your possession, then it is a violation of heroin laws, and you will be subject to arrest and prosecution. Here’s how those laws against heroin developed:

City and State Ordinances Making Heroin Illegal

Individual cities and states made the use of heroin and other opiates illegal as they saw fit for their community before 1890. In general, the focus of these laws was opium as opium dens were quite popular at the time. Medications based on these drugs were not considered illegal, however, and it would be some time before the heroin trade would be taxed or in any way controlled legally.

Federal Law and Illegal Heroin

The first Congressional Act regarding heroin and other opiates was enacted in 1890. The focus at first was not on consumption or use but that federal taxes be levied on each sale of morphine and opium.

1906: Pure Food and Drug Act

Regulation of the production, distribution and sale of food and drugs as well as labeling laws for those that have been altered in any way was the focus of this federal decision. For those who chose to break prior trafficking laws, fines and prison time would be the consequence for the first time.

1909: Smoking Opium Exclusion Act

The first law to ban the non-medical use of any substance, opium-based medications was not regulated but smoking marijuana was.

1914: The Harrison Act

Everyone involved in the importation, exportation, manufacture or distribution of opium and a few other drugs was required to register with the United States government and pay taxes on their earnings.

1919: Webb et al., v. United States

The Supreme Court banned the prescription of supplies to use narcotics.

1924: Heroin Act

The heretofore unregulated manufacture, distribution and possession of heroin for medicinal use was deemed illegal.

1922: Narcotic Drug Import and Export Act

Tighter restrictions for the importing and exporting of heroin as well as heroin sales, possession of the drug and its use.

1927: Bureau of Prohibition created

1932: Uniform State Narcotic Act

Focused on unifying the states so that everyone had the same minimum standards and attitudes toward heroin and other opiate use and trade laws enacted in the federal Narcotic Drug Import and Export Act.

1951: Boggs Act

Minimum prison sentences and maximum criminal penalties enacted for previous laws concerning drugs and their abuse.

1956: Narcotics Control Act

Increased Boggs Act penalties and mandatory prison sentence minimums.

1970: Controlled Substance Act

Consolidated many previous laws regulating the production and distribution of drugs, including heroin. The scheduling system was created (heroin is a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no medicinal use).

1973: Drug Enforcement Agency created

1973: Methadone Control Act

Established federally regulated and funded clinics and for heroin addiction treatment using methadone.

Since then, most laws have been focused on changing the minimum and maximum sentences for possession, distribution and sale of different drugs in different amounts. Notably, the adoption of Suboxone as a heroin addiction treatment method was approved by the FDA and continues to be regulated by the federal government.

While the influx of illicit drugs into the US continues to be a problem, these laws have at least made a dent on the heroin trade, resulting in many seizures, convictions and penalties against traffickers.

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