"An Act To provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax on all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes." The courts interpreted this to mean that physicians could prescribe narcotics to patients in the course of normal treatment, but not for the treatment of addiction.
Although technically illegal for purposes of distribution and use, the distribution, sale and use of cocaine was still legal for registered companies and individuals.
This proposal was supported by the United States Department of State and in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt called for an international opium conference, the Shanghai Commission in 1909. In 1906 an imperial edict, had been published prohibiting the cultivation and smoking of opium in the Chinese Empire over a period of ten years. This was being implemented with greater success than had been anticipated The British Empire had since the Opium war in the 1840s by military means forced China to allow a large import of opium from India.
At the beginning of the 20th century, cocaine began to be linked to crime. In 1900, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an editorial stating, "Negroes in the South are reported as being addicted to a new form of vice that of 'cocaine sniffing' or the 'coke habit.'" Some newspapers later claimed cocaine use caused blacks to rape white women and was improving their pistol marksmanship. Chinese immigrants were blamed for importing the opium-smoking habit to the U.S. The 1903 blue-ribbon citizens' panel, the Committee on the Acquirement of the Drug Habit concluded, "If the Chinaman cannot get along without his dope we can get along without him". By 1914 forty-six states had regulations on cocaine and twenty-nine states had laws against opium, morphine, and heroin.
Dr. Hamilton Wright, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt, stated that "cocaine is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the Negroes of the South and other sections of the country," even though there was no evidence to support this claim. Wright also stated that "one of the most unfortunate phases of smoking opium in this country is the large number of women who have become involved and were living as common-law wives or cohabitating with Chinese in the Chinatowns of our various cities".
Several authors have argued that the debate was merely to regulate trade and collect a tax. However, the committee report prior to the debate on the house floor and the debate itself, discussed the rise of opiate use in the United States. Harrison stated that "The purpose of this Bill can hardly be said to raise revenue, because it prohibits the importation of something upon which we have hitherto collected revenue." Later Harrison stated, "We are not attempting to collect revenue, but regulate commerce." House representative Thomas Sisson stated, "The purpose of this bill--and we are all in sympathy with it--is to prevent the use of opium in the United States, destructive as it is to human happiness and human life."
The drafters played on fears of “drug-crazed, sex-mad negroes” and made references to Negroes under the influence of drugs murdering whites, degenerate Mexicans smoking marijuana, and “Chinamen” seducing white women with drugs. Dr. Hamilton Wright, testified at a hearing for the Harrison Act. Wright alleged that drugs made blacks uncontrollable, gave them superhuman powers and caused them to rebel against white authority. Dr. Christopher Koch of the State Pharmacy Board of Pennsylvania testified that "Most of the attacks upon the white women of the South are the direct result of a cocaine-crazed Negro brain".
Before the Act was passed, on February 8, 1914 The New York Times published an article entitled "Negro Cocaine 'Fiends' Are New Southern Menace:Murder and Insanity Increasing Among Lower-Class Blacks" by Edward Huntington Williams which reported that Southern sheriffs had increased the caliber of their weapons from .32 to .38 to bring down Negroes under the effect of cocaine.
The impact of diminished supply was obvious by mid-1915. A 1918 commission called for sterner law enforcement. Congress responded by tightening up the Harrison Act-the importation of heroin for any purpose was banned in 1924. After other complementary laws (for ex. implementing the Uniform State Narcotic Act), and other actions by the government the number of addicts of opium started to decrease fast from 1925 to a level that in 1945 that was about one tenth of the level in 1914.
The use of the term 'narcotics' in the title of the act to describe not just opiates but also cocaine — which is a central nervous system stimulant, not a narcotic — initiated a precedent of frequent legislative and judicial misclassification of various substances as 'narcotics'. Today, law enforcement agencies, popular media, the United Nations, other nations and even some medical practitioners can be observed applying the term very broadly and often pejoratively in reference to a wide range of illicit substances, regardless of the more precise definition existing in medical contexts.