A History of Drugs: Drugs and Freedom in the Liberal Age

A History of Drugs: Drugs and Freedom in the Liberal Age

A History of Drugs: Drugs and Freedom in the Liberal Age

A History of Drugs: Drugs and Freedom in the Liberal Age


Why are some psychoactive substances regarded as 'dangerous drugs', to be controlled by the criminal law within a global prohibition regime, whilst others - from alcohol and tobacco, through to those we call 'medicines' - are seen and regulated very differently?A History of Drugstraces a genealogy of the construction and governance of the 'drug problem' over the past 200 years, calling into question some of the most fundamental ideas in this field: from 'addiction' to the very concept of 'drugs'. At the heart of the book is the claim that it was with the emergence in the late eighteenth century of modern liberal capitalism, with its distinctive emphasis on freedom, that our concerns about the consumption of some of these substances began to grow. And, indeed, notions of freedom, free will and responsibility remain central to the drug question today. Pursuing an innovative inter-disciplinary approach, A History of Drugsprovides an informed and insightful account of the origins of contemporary drug policy. It will be essential reading for students and academics working in law, criminology, sociology, social policy, history and political science.


Drug misuse wastes lives, destroys families and damages communities.

(Jacqui Smith, British Home Secretary, foreword to the 2008–18 national drug strategy)

To punish the evil drug pushers who poison our children, I want the tough new powers.

(Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister, speech to Labour Party Conference, September

The scourge of drug abuse spares no country, rich or poor. An estimated three to four
per cent of the world’s population regularly consumes illegal substances, with devastat
ing effect.

(Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, message for International Day against
Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking, June 2001)

The ‘drug problem’ has become perhaps the archetypal social problem of our time – cross-cutting, globalized and apparently intractable. Its complexity is daunting, requiring engagement with some of the thorniest domestic and international issues, from poverty and crime through to international development and terrorism. Political leaders line up to talk about the ‘scourge’ of drugs against which ‘society must be defended’, from the United Nations, to the European Union, to an array of national presidents and prime ministers. and nor is this just a ‘phantom’ played up by the political classes – there is public concern and anxiety about drugs too.

In response to this, governments by and large do not seem to have risen to the challenge with much obvious success. the ‘war on drugs’, as it is often (tellingly) described, is viewed by many as one of the least effective areas of public policy in recent decades. For some, this is a result of a failure to take tough enough action on either supply or demand. For others, more fundamentally, it is the entire system of international prohibition that is unworkable. Even the most ardent ‘drug warriors’ have some frustrations and dissatisfaction at how things are going. in a speech in late 2007 to an . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.