The War on Drugs

Much of Mexico today is wracked by violent social, political and economic conflict, as a range of stakeholders compete for control of the drug trade. Intimately linked to the US ‘War on Drugs,’ many call it ‘the Mexican Drug War.’ But who started it? When? And why?

Opium poppy eradication campaign in the mountains of Durango, 1934

Many commentators – and even policy-makers – blithely assume that the Drug War is a ‘modern’ phenomenon that dates back, at the earliest, to US President Reagan’s prohibitionist international crackdown on the drug trade, launched by in 1971. But the roots of Mexico’s current conflict stretch much further back in time.

My post-doctoral research looked at the deep history of drugs in Mexico. Above all, I focused on the ways in which the development of a profitable twentieth century trade in illicit commodities was inseparable from post-revolutionary state-building efforts, especially in the traditionally marginalised regions of the country that are at the centre of the modern Drug War. This has had serious political, economic, and cultural consequences for these areas today.

Some of the key historical findings of this project have recently been published in a special, Mexico-focused edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs – you can find it on their website, here [paywall], or get it free on my page, right here.

I have also written about the recent, severe economic crisis affecting the Mexican opium trade, and possible ways of minimising its fallout on one of Mexico’s most vulnerable, marginalised and chronically-overlooked sectors: poppy-growing peasants. You can find more information in a free policy paper (published by the Wilson Centre), and or by reading this open-access article (in the Journal of Illicit Economies and Development), both of them co-written with Benjamin Smith and Romain Lecour Grandmaison.

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