The Political Economy of Narcotics: Production, Consumption, and Global Markets

By Grace, Jocelyn | Health Sociology Review, October 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Political Economy of Narcotics: Production, Consumption, and Global Markets

Grace, Jocelyn, Health Sociology Review


As the title promises, this book tackles an enormous and complex subject, of which the author clearly has a commanding grasp. Buxton argues that international policies aimed at eliminating the production, trade and use of narcotics worldwide have not only failed, but are counter-productive and cause more harm than good. One of her key arguments in explaining why this is the case, is that:

international drug control policies have been intertwined with US foreign policy goals since the launch of the control system nearly a century ago ...In promoting prohibition as the guiding principle of drug policy, the USA has moulded the control system to its own values, interests and aspirations and locked the international community into an arcane view of drugs and drug users (2006:2).

The first two chapters are a fascinating read. They cover an historical overview of intoxicating substances and their distribution globally, and how prohibition and the regulation of what are now illicit narcotics came about. In the third chapter Buxton describes how regulation began to give way to control around the turn of the last century. Britain had to extricate itself from a highly profitable trade in opium in Asia, while the US was dealing with the legacy of an opium retail system in the newly annexed Philippines. With pressure from Christian activists in both countries, drug controls were gradually introduced. International conventions on limiting the trade in narcotics were held during the pre-WWII decades, and in the immediate post-war era a succession of conventions were established, which emphasised law enforcement. At the turn of the twenty-first century, 'a powerful critique of the drug control model and the underlying principle of prohibition has emerged' (2006:65).

Over the past decade and a half, drug production has increased, and drug markets expanded, with an estimated 200 million people (5 per cent of the world's adult population) using illicit drugs (2006:71). Chapters six and seven present statistics and analyses on drug production and consumption trends for the 1990s and 2000s. Buxton argues that the interconnectedness facilitated by globalisation has created an ideal environment for the expansion of narcotics production and trade. Having established that international drug control policies have failed to reduce, let alone eliminate narcotics production and trade, chapters eight and nine are devoted to examining why this is the case. In chapter ten Buxton pulls together her argument that the US is 'the heart of the problem'.

The rest of the book is dedicated to the author's 'more harm than good' thesis: that current control policies are not only ineffective, but actually exacerbate the problems associated with the narcotics industry. Chapter eleven presents an epidemiological update and analysis of the trends in HIV/AIDS and intervenous drug use (IDU) globally, with particular attention being given to the dramatic rise of both in former Soviet Union countries.

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