Back in the United States, cocaine and opiates were unregulated till the end of the 19th century, where one could easily buy a syringe and some cocaine for as less as USD 1.5. However, with the advent of the 20th century, medical researches began linking the usage of opiates and other drugs with crimes. To counter this alleged problem, the representative of New York, Francis Burton Harrison, proposed this Act to control drugs. Supporters of the bill specifically targeted blacks, Mexicans, and Chinese immigrants, who were thought to commit crimes like rapes and shootings under the influence of these drugs. In fact, certain medical practitioners even gave testimonies to the effect, that cocaine gave blacks superpowers, which encouraged them to rebel against white people of authority. All this was highly sensationalized and hyped by the newspapers, adding support to the passage of the Act. Following this, the Act was finally approved on the 17th of December, 1914. Recent research however suggests that the racial profiling done during this period was inaccurate, and the fact was that, white Americans were using more cocaine and opium than their black counterparts.
Changes in Laws: The lowered supply led to stricter law enforcement, as newspapers started reporting on increasing crimes that were allegedly perpetrated by people suffering from withdrawal symptoms. The United States Congress added further provisions to the Act in 1924, which completely banned the import of heroin. Strict laws drastically reduced the number of opium users all across the nation. Various drugs available were now strictly classified substances, between those which were to be controlled as narcotics, and those that were not, depending on their legal status, rather than their psychological effects. Also, the law required that these drugs had to be labeled with warnings: 'Warning: May Be Habit Forming'.
Drug Related Crime: Since the prescription and usage of opiates and other drugs weren't illegal before the Act was passed, suddenly, addicts found themselves being labeled as criminals. However, this was not seen as an effective method to stop drug use. In fact, prominent law enforcement officials came out against this, and said that punitive action was not helping the situation, and that the drug problem should have been solved with the help of medical research, rather than enforcing strict laws. The Act also saw the beginning of smuggling and black markets for drugs. A special investigating committee reported that, by 1919, large amounts of drugs were being smuggled in through the Mexican and Canadian borders, and that the United States was consuming much higher amounts of opium than most European countries at the time. Like the prohibition on alcohol, the war on drugs was seen by many as oppressive, devastating, and very expensive; a sentiment that can be seen often even today.
The Harrison Narcotics Act was largely superseded by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which has brought in many sweeping changes. However, none will dispute that the Act of 1914 was an important first step in America's war on illegal drugs, which has had far-reaching consequences to the present day.