Study Guide

History of Drugs in America Timeline

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Oct 12, 1492

Columbus Discovers America

Christopher Columbus "discovers America," landing in the Bahamas. On his very first day in the New World, Columbus meets with friendly Native Americans who offer him a valuable gift: tobacco. Not knowing what to make of the strange dried leaves, Columbus later throws the tobacco overboard.

Dec 19, 2019

Church Against Coca

The Catholic Church's First Council of Lima denounces the use of the coca leaf, commonly chewed by the Native Americans of the Andes for its stimulant properties. The church writes, "The plant is the work of the Devil, and appears to give strength only by a deception of the Evil One; it possesses no virtue but shortens the life of many Indians who at most escape from the forests with ruined health. [...] [I]t is a useless object liable to promote the practices and superstitions of the Indians."

Dec 19, 1588

First Smoking Ban

Catholic Church leaders in Lima—the seat of Spain's South American empire—attempt to impose the world's first smoking ban, ordering its priests to abstain from smoking during church: "It is forbidden under penalty of eternal damnation for priests, about to administer the sacraments, either to take the smoke of [...] tobacco into the mouth, or the powder of tobacco into the nose, even under the guise of medicine, before the service of the mass."

Dec 19, 2019

Tobacco Widespread

At the end of the 16th century, tobacco smoking—a tradition adopted from Native Americans—has become widespread in England.

Dec 19, 2019

James I Opposes Smoking

England's King James I, who objects to his subjects' growing smoking habit, publishes England's A Counterblaste to Tobacco. "And now Good Countrymen," writes the King, "let us (I pray you) consider, what honour or policy can move us to imitate the barbarous and beastly manners of the wild, Godless and slavish Indians, especially in so vile and stinking a custom?"

Dec 19, 2019


The Virginia Company establishes the first permanent English colony in North America at Jamestown in Virginia. Nearly two-thirds of the initial 144 colonists die within a year.

Dec 19, 2019

First Tobacco Crop

Virginia colonist John Rolfe—best known today as the husband of Pocahontas—plants the first tobacco crop at Jamestown. Tobacco, Virginia's first viable cash crop, saves the colony from collapse.

Dec 19, 2019

First Tobacco Shipment

The first shipment of Virginia tobacco arrives in London, fetching a good price.

Dec 19, 2019

Tobacco Saves Jamestown

Captain John Smith, early leader of English settlement in Virginia, describes Jamestown a decade after its founding as a town with "only five or six houses, the Church downe, the palisades broken, the Bridge in pieces, the Well of fresh water spoiled," but "the market-place, the streets, and all other spare places planted with Tobacco."

Dec 19, 2019

First Slaves in America

The first African slaves arrive in North America, as the Jamestown colonists purchase (in their words) "twenty negars" to work in their tobacco fields. Tobacco and slavery will dominate Virginia society for the next 240 years.

Dec 19, 2019

Tobacco as Currency

Jamestown enthusiastically welcomes the arrival of a ship from England carrying "young maids to make wives." The colonists happily pay the price to buy women—"one hundred and twenty pounds of the best leaf tobacco" each. The English population in North America soon begins to grow through natural reproduction.

Dec 19, 2019

Tobacco Price Floor

Virginia colonists create the first local government in America. The General Assembly's very first law is a measure to prop up the price of tobacco, ordering that no colonist should sell the crop for less than 3¢ per pound.

Dec 19, 2019

Massachusetts Bans Public Smoking

Massachusetts bans smoking in public.

Dec 19, 2019

Charles Taxes Tobacco

England's King Charles I justifies increased taxes on tobacco by condemning tobacco's impact on English society. He states:

"The plant or drug called tobacco scarce known to this nation in former times, was in this age first brought into this realm in small quantity, as medicine, and so used [...] but in the process of time, to satisfy the inordinate appetites of men and women it hath been brought in great quantity, and taken for wantonness and excess, provoking them to drinking and other incontinence, to the great impairing of their heaths and depraving them of their manners, so that the care which His Majesty hath of his people hath enforced him to think of some means of preventing of the evil consequences of this immoderate use thereof."

Dec 19, 2019

First British Coffeehouse

The first coffeehouse in Great Britain opens in the university town of Oxford.

Dec 19, 2019

First Rum

Rum makes its first appearance in the historical record when a visitor to the English colony of Barbados describes the island's favorite drink as "Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish and terrible liquor." The word "rumbullion" is eventually shortened to "rum."

Dec 19, 2019

Rum for Sailors

The English Royal Navy begins giving its sailors a daily ration of rum.

Dec 19, 2019

Pubs in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts General Court passes a law requiring every town in the colony to have a pub.

Dec 19, 1661

Rum a Menace

The General Court of Massachusetts rules that excess production of rum in the colony has become a menace to society.

Dec 19, 1669

First Tea

The British East India Company delivers its first shipment of tea to England. At first, tea is an incredibly expensive luxury commodity. Not until the early-18th century will tea become affordable to ordinary Britons, transforming England into a nation of tea-drinkers.

Dec 29, 1675

No Coffeehouses

England's King Charles II issues A Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses, declaring that coffeehouses have become "the great resort of Idle and disaffected persons" and ordering their closure.

Jan 8, 1676

Coffeehouses Back

King Charles II gives in to public pressure and rescinds his A Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee Houses, allowing the popular cafes to remain open.

Sep 15, 1682

Cotton Mather Objects to Quakers

Powerful Puritan minister Cotton Mather objects to the arrival in Massachusetts of a ship carrying "an hundred or more of the heretics and malignants called Quakers"—members of a different group of English religious dissenters, led by William Penn (who will eventually move south to found Pennsylvania). Mather suggests that the Puritans should capture the Quakers and sell them into slavery in Barbados, where they will "fetch good prices in rum and sugar."

Dec 19, 1686

Cotton Mather Against Rum

In Massachusetts, the Puritan minister Increase Mather complains, saying, "It is an unhappy thing that in later years a Kind of Drink called Rum has been common among us. They that are poor, and wicked too, can for a penny or two-pence make themselves drunk."

Dec 19, 2019

Twinings Tea Opens

Thomas Twining opens a tea shop in London, selling blends of the caffeinated beverage primarily to upper-class women. Twinings remains a major seller of teas to this day.

Dec 19, 2019

Molasses Tax

In London, Parliament passes the Molasses Act, which imposes a duty on molasses imports into the American colonies from the French Caribbean. The idea is to force American distilleries to buy their molasses from English colonies, but in practice, the Molasses Act only encourages large-scale smuggling of French molasses to evade the duties.

Dec 19, 2019

Haiti Grows Coffee

French colonial planters in the Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) begin growing coffee.

Dec 19, 2019

Tobacco Export Booms

Tobacco, grown primarily in Virginia, accounts for fully half the value of all exports from England's North American colonies.

Dec 19, 1770

Rum Consumption in 1770

The 1.7 million American colonists consume 7.5 million gallons of rum a year-that's nearly four and a half gallons for each man, woman, and child in the 13 colonies.

Dec 19, 1770

Rum Exports Boom

The American colonies are home to 143 rum distilleries, which use molasses imported from the Caribbean to produce 4.8 million gallons of rum each year. Rum accounts for 80% of New England's exports.

Dec 19, 1773

Saint-Pierre Notes Ironies of Coffee

A French traveler to the Caribbean, J.H.B. de Saint-Pierre, writes on the ironies of African slaves tending American plantations to supply Europeans with caffeinated drinks, saying, "I do not know if coffee and sugar are essential to the happiness of Europe, but I know well that these two products have accounted for the unhappiness of two great regions of the world: America has been depopulated so as to have land on which to plant them; Africa has been depopulated so as to have the people to cultivate them."

Dec 16, 1773

Boston Tea Party Inspires Coffee

The Sons of Liberty, a group of American colonists angered by British taxation of colonial trade, stage the Boston Tea Party, raiding a docked English merchant ship and dumping its valuable cargo of tea into Boston Harbor. Patriotic rejection of the English habit of tea-drinking during the Revolutionary War helps to turn the United States into a nation of coffee-drinkers.

Dec 19, 1788

Haiti Produces Half of World's Coffee

The French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) accounts for half the coffee grown in the world.

Dec 19, 1791

Haitian Uprising

Slaves in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue mount a great uprising, opening 13 years of warfare that will eventually lead to the independence of the new nation of Haiti. The Haitian Revolution ends the island's status as the world's preeminent producer of both coffee and sugar.

Dec 19, 2019

Morphine Discovered

A German chemist named F.W.A. Sertürner isolates morphine from opium.

Dec 19, 2019

War Helps Coffee

The War of 1812 cuts off American access to English tea, helping to make cheaper Brazilian coffee the caffeinated beverage of choice in the United States.

Dec 19, 2019

First Commercial Coffee Roaster

The first commercial coffee roaster in the United States begins operation in New York City.

Dec 19, 2019

New Yorkers Love Coffee

Commercial coffee roasters in New York City alone now roast more coffee than is consumed in all of Great Britain.

Dec 19, 1861

Morphine in Civil War

Morphine, a derivative of opium, is widely used to relieve the suffering of wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Union Army doctors issue nearly ten million opium pills to Northern soldiers. Morphine and opium addiction is so common among Civil War veterans throughout the late-19th century that addiction becomes known as "the army disease."

Dec 19, 1861

No Coffee for South

During the Civil War, the North blockades all Southern ports, depriving the Confederacy of access to coffee. Southern soldiers are forced to drink chicory—a bitter brew that looks like coffee but tastes worse and lacks caffeine—instead. Black-market coffee in war-torn Virginia costs $5 a pound, up from 10¢ before the war.

Dec 19, 1861 - Dec 19, 1865

Coffee Fuels North

Coffee fuels the Union Army through the Civil War. Each Northern soldier receives a ration of 1/10 pound of coffee grounds per day (36 pounds per year), making the boiling coffeepot a universal presence in Union camps.

Dec 19, 1865

Prepackaged Coffee

Pittsburgh grocer John Arbuckle launches the first popular brand of prepackaged coffee, calling it Arbuckle's Ariosa Coffee. Sold in standardized one-pound paper bags under a colorful Ariosa logo, the coffee becomes wildly popular from urban cafes in the East to frontier chuck wagons in the West.

Dec 19, 1872

Coffee Declared Essential to Commerce

Harper's Magazine observes, "The proud son of the highest civilization can no longer live happily without coffee. [...] The whole social life of many nations is based upon the insignificant bean; it is an essential element in the vast commerce of great nations."

Dec 22, 1873

Prohibitionists Organize

Feminists in New York state form the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which will become both one of the largest women's organizations and one of the largest prohibitionist organizations in American history.

Dec 19, 1876

Coffee Imports in 1876

The United States imports 340 million pounds of coffee a year, buying almost one-third of all coffee exported around the world.

Dec 19, 1880

1880 Smoking

Americans smoke 500 million cigarettes a year, up from 42 million just five years earlier.

Dec 19, 1883

New York Times Against Smoking

The New York Times editorializes against Americans' growing taste for smoking cigarettes (considered to be feminine) instead of (manly) pipes or cigars, saying, "The decadence of Spain began when the Spaniards adopted cigarettes and if this pernicious practice obtains among adult Americans the ruin of the Republic is close at hand."

Apr 30, 1884

Cigarette Machine Debuts

An automated cigarette-making machine installed in the factory of pioneering tobacco entrepreneur Buck Duke produces 120,000 cigarettes in a single day. Modern mass-production of cigarettes dramatically lowers the cost of tobacco in America.

Dec 19, 1884

Cocaine Praised as Miracle Cure

The American medical community embraces cocaine as a miracle cure for a variety of ailments, including—ironically—addiction to morphine and alcohol. The New York Times reports on the new wonder drug, saying, "The new uses to which cocaine has been applied with success in New York [...] include hayfever, catarrh and toothache and it is now being experimented with in cases of seasickness. [...] All will be given to understand that cocaine will cure the worst cold in the head ever heard of."

May 1, 1886

Coca-Cola Invented from Stimulants

John Pemberton, an Atlanta chemist, invents Coca-Cola. The sweet beverage is initially intended to be a medicine, combining the stimulants of the South American coca leaf (the source of cocaine) and the African kola nut (a source of caffeine).

Dec 19, 1887

Oregon Bans Cocaine

Oregon becomes the first state to ban the sale of cocaine without a prescription.

Dec 19, 1895

Charley Post Opposes Caffiene

Health-food guru Charley Post—the inventor of Grape-Nuts cereal—begins selling Postum, a grain-based non-caffeinated alternative to coffee. Post, a pioneer in modern advertising, sells Postum under the catchy (if grammatically dubious) slogan "If Coffee Don't Agree, Use Postum Food Coffee." 

Post sells Postum by attacking coffee as a "poisonous drug—caffeine, which belongs in the same class of alkaloids with cocaine, morphine, nicotine, and strychnine." Charley Post, who makes millions of dollars selling Postum, never kicks his own coffee habit.

Dec 19, 1895

Coca-Cola Marketed as Drink

Coca-Cola stops marketing itself as a medicine, launching new advertisements—"Drink Coca-Cola. Delicious and Refreshing"—that position the product as a thirst-quencher rather than as a drug. Sales skyrocket.

Dec 19, 1898

Bayer Sells Heroin

The German drug company Bayer begins selling heroin as an over-the-counter cough suppressant.

Jun 30, 1906

Pure Food and Drug Act

Congress passes the Pure Food and Drug Act, which requires truth in labeling and bans adulterated food products and poisonous medicines.

Dec 19, 2019

Coffee Drunkards

Dr. Harvey Wiley, Chief Chemist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and enforcer of the Pure Food and Drug Act, declares that "coffee drunkenness is a commoner failing than the whiskey habit. [...] This country is full of tea and coffee drunkards. The most common drug in this country is caffeine."

Dec 19, 2019

First Instant Coffee

A Belgian entrepreneur with the improbable name of George Washington begins selling the first instant coffee, calling it G. Washington's Refined Coffee. Initially less popular than traditional roasted coffee (because it tastes much worse), instant coffee will soon become a mainstay among American soldiers in the trenches of World War I.

Dec 19, 2019

U.S. Sues Coke

The U.S. government sues Coca-Cola for violations of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, charging that the drink has been adulterated through the unnatural addition of caffeine to the formula. Coca-Cola wins the case.

Mar 12, 1911

Cocaine Linked with Prostitution

The New York Times warns that cocaine leads young girls into prostitution, saying, "There is no doubt that this drug, perhaps more than any other, is used by those concerned in the white slave traffic to corrupt young girls, and that when the habit of using the drug has been established, it is but a short time before such girls fall to the ranks of prostitution."

Dec 19, 2019

FDA Against Caffeine

Dr. Harvey Wiley, the man charged with enforcing the Pure Food and Drug Act, declares to a stunned audience of coffee executives that Coca-Cola is "a first artificial cousin of coffee, because the dope that men put in Coca-Cola is the dope the Lord puts in coffee-caffeine. [...] I would not give my child coffee or tea any more than I would give him poison."

Dec 19, 2019

Ford Condemns Cigarettes as Gateway Drug

Auto magnate Henry Ford condemns cigarettes, writing a pamphlet called The Case Against the Little White Slaver that warns American adolescents of the ruinous effects of smoking. "Morphine," writes Ford, "is the legitimate consequence of alcohol, and alcohol is the legitimate consequence of tobacco. Cigarettes, drink, opium, is the logical and regular series."

Feb 14, 1914

Drugs and Race

The New York Times publishes an article warning against a new peril at the intersection of drugs and race. "N**** Cocaine 'Fiends' Are a New Southern Menace," reads the headline.

Dec 19, 2019

California Bans Pot

California becomes the first state to ban cannabis consumption for non-medicinal purposes.

Dec 19, 2019 - Dec 19, 2019

WWI Coffee

American troops in World War I consume 75 million pounds of coffee.

Jan 29, 1919

18th Amendment Ratified

The 18th Amendment is ratified, banning in one year's time the manufacture, sale, or transportation of "intoxicating liquors" in the United States.

Jan 16, 1920

Prohibition Era

Prohibition takes effect, making it illegal for Americans to drink alcohol. Contrary to the hopes and expectations of its boosters in the temperance movement, the law does not end alcohol consumption in the United States, as millions of citizens obtain liquor illegally through bootleggers or speakeasies.

Dec 19, 2019

Maxwell House Grows

Coffee grows in popularity during the Roaring '20s, partly due to the fact that alcohol is banned by Prohibition. The decade sees the rise of Maxwell House, which becomes the country's dominant brand, consumed from coast to coast. Maxwell House's alluring advertising slogan—"Good to the last drop"—remains in use today.

Dec 19, 2019 - Dec 19, 2019

Marlboro Begins as Woman's Cigarette

The tobacco firm Philip Morris introduces the Marlboro brand, targeted specifically to women. The cigarettes, which are made with a special tip designed not to stick to lipstick, are advertised under the slogan "Mild as May." The first advertising copy reads, "Women—when they smoke at all—quickly develop discerning taste. That is why Marlboros now ride in so many limousines, attend so many bridge parties, and repose in so many handbags." The rugged Marlboro Manis nowhere to be seen.

Dec 19, 2019

History of Tobacco Published

Count Corti writes in his History of Tobacco, "a glance at the statistics proves convincingly that the non-smokers are a feeble and ever dwindling minority. The hopeless nature of their struggle becomes plain when we remember that all countries, whatever their form of government, now encourage and facilitate the passion for smoking in every conceivable way."

Dec 5, 1933

21st Amendment Ratified

Congress ratifies the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition. America's utopian experiment with banning one of its most widely used drugs—alcohol—ends in abject failure.

Dec 19, 2019

Reefer Madness Released

The film Reefer Madness warns America's youth against the—seriously exaggerated—dangers of marijuana. In the film, smoking pot leads directly to car wrecks, suicide, rape, and insanity.

Aug 2, 1937

Marijuana Tax Act

Congress passes the Marihuana Tax Act, the first step toward criminalizing marijuana in the United States.

Dec 19, 2019

Coca-Cola as the Essence of America

Journalist William Allen White calls Coca-Cola "a sublimated essence of all that America stands for, a decent thing honestly made, universally distributed, conscientiously improved with the years."

Dec 19, 2019

Nazis Link Tobacco and Lung Cancer

On Germany, Nazi scientists conduct the first successful epidemiological study linking tobacco smoking with lung cancer.

Dec 19, 2019

First Coffee Vending Machine

Instant coffee becomes more popular with the invention of the Kwik Kafe vending machine, which fills a paper cup with hot instant coffee in just five seconds. By 1955, the United States will be home to 60,000 coffee vending machines.

Dec 19, 2019

Hollywood Promotes Cigarettes

Hollywood films heavily promote smoking. In The Sands of Iwo Jima, John Wayne celebrates the defeat of the Japanese Army by saying, "I never felt so good in my life. How about a cigarette?"

May 27, 1950

First Link Smoking and Cancer

The American Medical Association publishes the first U.S. study to confirm a correlation between smoking and lung cancer.

Dec 19, 2019

Coffee Break

The Pan American Coffee Bureau (an association of South American coffee exporters) invents the coffee break, spending $2 million on an advertising campaign behind the slogan, "Give Yourself a Coffee-Break—And Get What Coffee Gives to You." By the end of the year, 80% of American companies will allow their employees to take a few minutes off for coffee during work hours.

Dec 19, 2019

Marlboro Man

Marlboro, originally introduced in the 1920s as a ladies' cigarette, is rebranded to appeal to manly men (and the women who love them). The iconic Marlboro Man—a rugged cowboy—first appears in advertisements for the cigarettes, which skyrocket in popularity.

Dec 19, 2019

Tobacco Companies Deny Lung Cancer

The major American tobacco companies join together to place a large advertisement in nearly 450 American newspapers. Their "Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers" challenges the emerging scientific consensus "that cigarette smoking is in some way linked with lung cancer in human beings. 

Although conducted by doctors of professional standing," the statement argues, "these experiments are not regarded as conclusive in the field of cancer research. [...] Distinguished authorities point out: (1) That medical research of recent years indicates many possible causes of lung cancer. (2) That there is no agreement among the authorities regarding what the cause is. (3) That there is no proof that cigarette smoking is one of the causes. (4) That statistics purporting to link cigarette smoking with the disease could apply with equal force to any one of many other aspects of modern life. [...] We believe the products we make are not injurious to health."

Jan 14, 1957

Bogart Dies of Lung Cancer at 57

Hollywood star Humphrey Bogart, a frequent smoker on screen and in real life, dies of lung cancer at the age of 57.

Dec 19, 1965 - Dec 19, 1970

Drug Use Grows in 1960s

During the 1960s, recreational illegal drug use (particularly of marijuana) becomes much more common among middle-class, white young people, especially on college campuses.

Jan 1, 1966

Warning Label Required

The federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act takes effect, forcing cigarettes to be sold with a warning label: "Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health." The weak language of the warning is a product of heavy lobbying by the tobacco industry, which defeats competing proposals for a much stronger warning.

Apr 1, 1966

Peet’s Coffee Opens First Store

Peet's Coffee and Tea opens its first store in Berkeley, California, challenging the market dominance of weak, poor-quality instant coffee by selling high-quality, fresh-roasted beans.

Sep 21, 1969

Operation Intercept

The Nixon Administration launches Operation Intercept, a massive effort to block marijuana from entering the United States from Mexico. The operation effectively shuts down the U.S.-Mexico border for two weeks by subjecting every single vehicle to an intensive inspection. Remarkably, the operation uncovers no major shipments of marijuana.

Oct 27, 1970

Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act

Congress passes the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which reduces the penalty for marijuana possession but gives law enforcement new powers to conduct drug-related searches.

Dec 19, 1964 - Dec 19, 1973

Drug Use in Vietnam

Drug abuse has become rampant among American soldiers fighting a demoralizing war in the jungles of Vietnam. While marijuana is the most common illegal drug used by American servicemen, heroin is the most troubling.

Jun 17, 1971

Nixon Begins War on Drugs

President Richard Nixon coins the phrase, "War on Drugs," promising in a major speech to defeat "public enemy number one in the United States. [...] If we cannot destroy the drug menace, then it will destroy us."

Jan 2, 1971

Cigarette Ads Banned from Television

Cigarette advertisements are banned from American television.

Mar 30, 1971

Starbucks Opens in Seattle

The first Starbucks Coffee opens in Seattle, initially selling only bulk coffee beans bought from Peet's Coffee in California.

Oct 1, 1972

Mr. Coffee Brewer

The Mr. Coffee drip brewer goes on sale for the first time, allowing customers to brew high-quality drip coffee at home instead of boiling it (which destroys its taste).

Jul 1, 1973

DEA Established

The Nixon Administration creates the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Dec 19, 1975

Minnesota Limits Public Smoking

Minnesota becomes the first state to limit smoking in public spaces, passing the Clean Indoor Air Act to protect "the public health and comfort and the environment by prohibiting smoking in public places and at public meetings, except in designated smoking areas."

Dec 19, 1976

Soft Drinks Beat Coffee

Soft drinks surpass coffee to become America's most widely consumed beverage other than water.

Dec 19, 1980

Trafficking a Threat

A Presidential Commission on drugs finds that illegal drug trafficking presents a threat to American national security. It states, "The violence and corruption that are integral parts of organized criminal drug trafficking take the lives of American and foreign officials and private citizens, undermines drug control efforts and threatens entire governments to the extent that the stability of friendly nations is threatened, particularly in this hemisphere. Our national security is jeopardized."

Jun 9, 1980

Richard Pryor Ignites Self While Smoking Crack

Popular comedian Richard Pryor lights himself on fire while attempting to smoke freebase (a.k.a. crack) cocaine. The incident becomes the butt of many jokes (including Pryor's own) but also introduces many Americans to the idea of smoking cocaine for the very first time.

Dec 19, 1980 - Dec 19, 1983

Freeway Ricky Ross

"Freeway Ricky" Ross, a South Central Los Angeles drug dealer, becomes America's premiere cocaine distributor by selling cocaine in a cheap, smokable form that Ross calls "Ready Rock," better known today as crack. By 1983, Ross will be moving $1 to 2 million of cocaine—and earning between $100,000 and $200,000 in profits—every single day.

Dec 19, 1981

Kicking the Coffee Habit Published

Charles Wetherall publishes Kicking the Coffee Habit, which declares that coffee—which Wetherall calls "Public Health Enemy Number One"—is waging "a pathological war on this country."

Dec 19, 1981

Medellin Cartel

Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel rises to dominate the Colombian cocaine trafficking industry.

Mar 1, 1982

Pablo Escobar Granted Immunity

Pablo Escobar, kingpin of Colombia's Medellin Cartel, is elected to the Colombian Congress, granting him immunity from prosecution in Colombian courts.

Dec 19, 1983

Sylvester Stallone Agrees to Smoke in Rocky

The Brown & Williamson Company—manufacturer of many cigarette brands, including Pall Mall, Lucky Strike, and Kool—signs an agreement to pay Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone $500,000 to smoke Brown & Williamson cigarettes on screen in his next five films (including Rambo and Rocky IV).

Mar 1, 1984

Colombian Cocaine Destroyed

Colombian government forces working in collaboration with American anti-drug officials destroy more than $1 billion worth of cocaine in a series of raids against cocaine production facilities hidden deep in the jungles of Colombia.

Apr 30, 1984

Pablo Escobar Murders Justice Minister

Henchmen for Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel murder Colombia's Justice Minister, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, in retaliation for the government's raids against the cartel's cocaine production facilities a month earlier.

Apr 1, 1984

Starbucks Begins Coffee To-Go

In Seattle, Starbucks Coffee experiments with an in-store espresso bar, for the first time selling to-go coffee drinks in addition to the whole beans that comprise the bulk of its business.

Nov 6, 1985

Medellin Cartel Murders Supreme Court

Medellin Cartel guerillas attack Colombia's Palace of Justice, killing nearly 100 people—including 11 Supreme Court justices—in the course of a daylong siege. Many fear that the cartel has become more powerful than the government of Colombia.

Jun 18, 1986

Len Bias Dies at University of Maryland

Len Bias, a basketball star at the University of Maryland, dies of a cocaine overdose one day after being selected as the second pick in the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. Bias' shocking death fuels a nationwide panic about cocaine abuse.

Sep 2, 1986

48 Hours on Crack Street

15 million Americans tune in to watch a two-hour CBS News Special, "48 Hours on Crack Street," in which Dan Rather investigates the perils of crack cocaine. Throughout 1986, the media engages in intensive and sometimes exaggerated coverage of the crack epidemic, fueling a nationwide crack hysteria.

Sep 1, 1986

"Just Say No"

President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan launch a "national crusade" against drug abuse behind the slogan, "Just Say No."

Oct 27, 1986

Mandatory Sentences Enacted

President Reagan signs the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, creating mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and leading to a massive increase in the number of people incarcerated in federal prisons.

Nov 18, 1986

Medellin Indictment

In a Miami courtroom, the U.S. government wins an indictment against the leaders of the Medellin Cartel on racketeering charges.

Apr 1, 1987

Starbucks Stores

Under new ownership, Starbucks Coffee transforms its core business from the sale of whole beans for home consumption to the in-store sale of espresso drinks.

Oct 1, 1987

Starbucks In Chicago

Starbucks Coffee opens its first store outside of the Seattle area, in Chicago. Chicagoans initially dislike the strong Starbucks coffee and the store loses money.

Dec 19, 1988

New Drug Laws

American politicians respond to the crack epidemic by passing draconian new drug laws. Reasoning—with no evidence—that crack cocaine is 100 times more addictive than powder cocaine, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms proposes to make the penalty for possession of crack cocaine 100 times higher. 

Helms' motion passes—the penalty for possession of 5 grams of crack now equals the penalty for possession of 500 grams of powder. Since crack is more popular among Black drug users and powder is more popular among whites, the result of the legislation is a massive racial disparity in the punishment meted out to users of the same drug.

Dec 19, 1988

Tobacco Industry Lawsuit

The tobacco industry loses its first major lawsuit when a jury awards the family of lung-cancer victim Rose Cipollone a $400,000 verdict.

Dec 19, 1989

Drug Arrests Rise

In 1989, 46% of all arrests made In New York City are for possession or distribution of crack cocaine.

Dec 2, 1993

Pablo Escobar Killed

Medellin Cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar is killed by Colombian police.

Dec 19, 1998

Master Settlement

The American tobacco industry and 46 states sign the Master Settlement Agreement, in which tobacco companies agree to pay $246 billion over 25 years to offset the states' costs of treating smoking-related illnesses.

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