Located in Arlington, Virginia, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is memorialized through its very own museum. The DEA Museum, free to the public, is a collection of exhibits that are meant to teach and engage with the public about the United States' history with both drug-related law enforcement and drugs themselves. Drugs – both legal and illegal – have been a part of our culture for a very long time. This historical site aims to teach more about those ties, in hopes of better preserving the future.
Disclaimer: Since the DEA is a federal agency, the museum is created through their eyes. In the words of Winston Churchill, "History is written by the victors." As it still stands, the DEA and the current administration still consider cannabis an illicit drug, and many of its educational exhibits and resources reinforce this perspective.
Table of Contents
The DEA Museum & Visitor Center is meant to educate the public on various topics related to drugs. Their main mission and purpose are tied to teaching Americans about the history of drugs, the dangers and realities of drug addiction, and drug law enforcement in the US. Armed with exhibits, interactive stations, educational programs, and displays, the DEA Museum is an evolving resource that shows the trends of both illicit and licit drug use throughout American history.
History of the DEA Museum
The DEA Museum & Visitor Center opened in 1976, as a result of the American government encouraging all of its federal agencies to create exhibits that highlight their history, in honor of the nation's bicentennial celebration. A special agent within the DEA's office decided to collect and showcase DEA officers' badges, the earliest being a 1914 narcotics agent's badge.
Over the next 20 years, the collection of memorabilia continued to grow – beyond badges, employees would also gather other objects, photographs, documents, and artifacts representing the history of the DEA. An official space was designated in 1989 in Arlington, meant specifically to tell the stories of drug law enforcement in the US. Another mission was incorporated – to also provide education of drugs and drug addiction in America.
The museum opened its first exhibit in 1999, entitled "Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History." The collection took viewers back over 150 years. Additions came in 2002, and the DEA Museum became home to a changing gallery, hosting various topical exhibits.
At this time, the DEA Museum has three physical exhibits: "Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History," "Good Medicine – Bad Behavior," and "Drugs: Costs & Consequences."
Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History
This exhibit explains the recent history of illicit drug use in the United States. They talk about the discovery of morphine, heroin, and cocaine in the 19th century, and the first drug epidemic at the turn of the 20th century. The museum credits law enforcement for putting in place effective law restrictions that nearly eradicated drug use. Then, however, the 1960s brought on substances like psychedelics, amphetamines, and that no-good marijuana, which is a schedule 1 drug. This exhibit delves into drug culture and the birth of the DEA, as well as the evolution of organized crime. According to the museum, the largest challenge facing today's DEA is "the dramatic change in organized crime. While American criminals once controlled drug trafficking on U.S. soil, today sophisticated and powerful criminal groups headquartered in foreign countries control the drug trade in the United States."
Good Medicine – Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America
The DEA Museum's next exhibit places a large focus on modern drug issues. Specifically, prescription drug abuse is explored. Good Medicine, Bad Behavior takes a look into the history of opioids and how they are relevant to today’s opioid crisis, citing different cases, pharmacies, and science looking into the impact of substances on the body. This exhibit specifically challenges the rise of online pharmacies, rather than the negative effects and addictive nature of these medications themselves; it places blame instead on misuse, which lends to the name of the exhibit.
Drugs: Costs & Consequences
Drugs: Costs & Consequences is a touring exhibit that is now being shown at the Texas Museum of Science and Technology. This specific exhibit looks into the damaging effects of illegal drugs on the mind and body, plus the costs involved in the sale, use, and production of these drugs. This exhibit could be considered a scare tactic, as it aims to "open eyes to the science behind illegal drug addiction and the myriad costs of illegal drugs – to individuals, American society, and the world." Cannabis, again, is included in this list of illicit substances.
The DEA Museum also has virtual resources for anyone hoping to learn more about drugs in the US. One such exhibit is called "Cannabis, Coca, and Poppy: Nature's Addictive Plants." Don't feel alarmed, however; the topic of marijuana addiction has been largely researched, and it's been noted that only about 9 percent of all users become dependent.
If you're around Washington D.C. be sure to check out the DEA Museum. Make note of their educational programs and interactive exhibits and learn something new. When it comes to cannabis prohibition, try not to despair – if and when cannabis is legalized federally, the DEA Museum will continue to grow and evolve, once again written through the perspective of the winners.