The Politics of Narcotic Drugs: A Survey

The Politics of Narcotic Drugs: A Survey

The Politics of Narcotic Drugs: A Survey

The Politics of Narcotic Drugs: A Survey


The Politics of Narcotic Drugs brings together leading experts on the drugs trade to provide an accessible yet detailed analysis of the multiple challenges that the contemporary trade in narcotic drugs and its prohibition pose, from the local to the international community.

Through the use of country and regional case studies that include Afghanistan, Mexico, Colombia and the Middle East, the drivers of the drugs trade and the security and development dilemmas created by the prohibition of narcotic substances are explored. Contributions that assess the international drug control regime, British anti-drug enforcement organizations, 'narcoterrorism' and options for drug policy reform engage readers in current debates and the narrative frameworks that shape discussion of the drugs issue. The book is an invaluable guide to the dynamic and far-reaching issue of narcotic drugs and the impact of their prohibition on our countries and communities.

The chapters are followed by an A-Z glossary of key terms, issues and organizations, and a section of maps and statistics.


The chapters in this collection engage with one of the most complex policy questions of our time: what is the most appropriate response to the production, use and distribution of illicit drugs? Current international approaches are based on four core assumptions. First, that some, but not all, mind- and mood-altering substances present a danger to public and individual health and morality. They should, therefore, be banned—or strictly regulated where it can be shown that they have legitimate scientific or medical use. Second, that all states must uphold this ban within their national territories and work collectively to enforce the prohibition of illicit substances. Third, that those who participate in the illicit trade, either as producers, distributors or users, are criminals whose behaviour must be addressed through recourse to punitive sanction. Finally, source-focused approaches are the most effective means of combating and terminating the trade. Here, the onus is on preventing the supply of illicit drugs from entering the market through activities that include eradication and interdiction. The logic of this supply-side approach is that a shortage of supply will drive up the price of illicit substances, rendering them costly and inaccessible.

These fundamentals of contemporary drugs policy were first set out more than 100 years ago at the first international ‘drugs’ conference. Convened in Shanghai, China on the initiative of the US Government and US missionary groups, this focused on the problems associated with the global trade in opium. Over the course of the next century a comprehensive anti-drugs (or ‘counter-narcotics’) regime with its own vast administrative bureaucracy within the League of Nations (and its successor, the United Nations), was constructed. This incorporated and regulated substances that had been freely produced, traded and consumed for decades, if not centuries (such as cannabis, coca and cocaine), and new substances (such as LSD and Ecstasy) as they became available. States were bound to the drugs regime through a series of international conventions, the most significant being the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (Buxton 2010). These built on each other, addressing omissions and points of vulnerability, thereby constructing a comprehensive framework of binding agreements.

A century later and the ambition of a drugs-free world, most recently restated at the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, has not materialized. The illicit trade has grown exponentially, thriving in the post-Cold War globalized world of free markets, mass migration . . .

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