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History of Drugs in America Terms

Bootlegger, Bootlegging, Bootleg

A smuggler of illegal liquor. During Prohibition, alcohol continued to be legal in Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and most other nations, and bootleggers did a huge business in illegally importing prohibited booze into the United States.

Speakeasy, Speakeasies

An illegal saloon of the Prohibition era. During Prohibition, an estimated half million speakeasies opened around the United States to provide lawbreaking drinkers with a place to purchase and consume alcohol. Speakeasies often operated as fronts for organized crime.


A legal doctrine of marriage that held that upon their wedding a husband and wife legally merged into one person—the man. The woman, legally speaking, ceased to exist as an independent entity, losing all control over her property and many other legal rights. The law thus made women completely dependent upon their husbands.

New World

A European term for the Western Hemisphere, which seemed brand new following Columbus's "discovery," in contrast to the Old World of Europe, Africa, and Asia—all of which had been known to Europeans for centuries. Of course, nothing about the New World was new to the Indians who had been living there for centuries.

A European term for the Western Hemisphere, which seemed brand new following Columbus's "discovery," in contrast to the Old World of Europe, Africa, and Asia—all of which had been known to Europeans for centuries. Of course, nothing about the New World was new to the Indians who had long been living there.

Mass Consumption

A macroeconomic model based upon large demand for consumer goods of all kinds from people at all ranks of society.

Mass Production

The industrial production of large quantities of standardized manufactured items using modern machinery and assembly-line techniques.

Gateway Drug

A drug that tends to lead its users to move on to use even more addictive and dangerous drugs.


A physically or psychologically compulsive need for a habit-forming drug.


Runny nose. In the late nineteenth century, cocaine was marketed as a cure. Whoa.

White Slave Traffic, White Slave Trade

A term used in the early twentieth century to refer to child prostitution or sexual slavery. A series of sensationalistic newspaper accounts convinced many people that the kidnapping of young girls for the purpose of forcing them into prostitution was a widespread phenomenon and a moral crisis on par with slavery before the Civil War.

Cartel, Cartels

A syndicate of businesses organized to self-regulate production in a particular market in order to manipulate prices. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Colombian cocaine industry came to be dominated by a handful of powerful cartels, most notoriously Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel.


A physical or psychological need for an addictive drug.

Cash Crop, Cash Crops

A crop grown for sale in the export market rather than for use as food for the farmer or as animal feed. Tobacco was a vital cash crop in the early stages of American history; marijuana is the most valuable cash crop in the United States today.

Natural Reproduction

Population growth achieved through the birth of children rather than through the immigration of new adults to a community or nation.

Aristocracy, Aristocrat, Aristocrats

The ruling class, especially the hereditary nobility within a feudal system.

Corporate Capitalism

A modern stage of capitalist development characterized by the economic prevalence of large, hierarchical and bureaucratic profit-seeking organizations known as corporations.

Distilled, Distillation, Distillery, Distilleries

Concentrated or purified through a process of vaporization and condensation. Distillation is the process that allows the manufacture of liquor.

Green Coffee Beans

Unroasted coffee beans. Coffee must be roasted before it can be made into a drink.

Patent Medicines, Patent Medicine

Over-the-counter drugs popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many patent medicines were completely fraudulent; others promised to treat minor ailments like nasal congestion with hardcore narcotics like heroin.


Made impure through the addition of inferior and inappropirate ingredients.

American Dream

The ideal of freedom and opportunity that allows all Americans to aspire to a higher standard of living than that achieved by their parents.

Sin Taxes, Sin Tax

Extra taxes imposed upon the consumption of alcohol, tobacco. or other socially undesirable substances in order to deter use.


Drugs sold without a need for a doctor's prescription.

Black Market, Black-market

The illegal buying and selling of goods prohibited by law from legal trade. Prohibition against certain drugs leads to the creation of a black market in those drugs; the profitability of the black market can sustain organized crime.


Homemade alcohol.

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