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The Controlled Substances Act: How a "Big Tent" Reform Became a Punitive Drug Law


The Controlled Substances Act: How a "Big Tent" Reform Became a Punitive Drug Law

David T Courtwright. Drug Alcohol Depend.


The 1970 Controlled Substances Act was part of an omnibus reform package designed to rationalize, and in some respects to liberalize, American drug policy. While the legislation provided additional resources for law enforcement and a systematic means for regulating the use of most psychoactive drugs, it also did away with mandatory minimum sentences and provided more support for treatment and research. Over the next three decades, and in response to public alarm about drug abuse, the US Congress continuously amended the law to produce a more punitive system of drug control. The amendments, which gave the Drug Enforcement Administration greater control over scheduling and maintenance and which substantially increased penalties for illicit trafficking, transformed the law into the legal foundation of America's "drug war," as the stricter criminal approach came to be known. By the 1980s, the flexibility and innovative spirit of the original Controlled Substances Act (and that of Nixon-era drug strategy generally) had largely disappeared from American drug policy.

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