SHAD Interview: “Legalización o Represión”: How a Debate in Colombia Steered the Fate of the “War on Drugs” with Lina Britto

Editor’s Note: Today marks our last interview with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which focuses on the intersection of drugs and US foreign relations. Today we’re talking to Dr. Lina Britto, an assistant professor of History at Northwestern University where she teaches on the history of the drug trade and the war on drugs in the Americas, among other subjects. You can read Britto’s article in its entirety for a bit longer here.

Screenshot 2019-04-15 at 12.53.06 PMTell readers a little bit about yourself

I’m Colombian, and recently became U.S. citizen as well. I began my career as a journalist, and I still write journalism when I manage to carve time between teaching and other responsibilities. I did a Masters in Anthropology, which made me to fall in love with History, so I decided to became a historian. My PhD in Latin American and Caribbean History is from New York University, and before coming to Northwestern University, where I work as an assistant professor in the Department of History, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

The reality of my country, which is still one of the main producers of cocaine in the world, and my own lived experience as a member of a generation who grew up in Pablo Escobar’s Medellín in the 1980s and early 1990s. But because I’ve always liked to swim against the tide, my interest was never really to understand the history of cocaine, which I found so pervading and asphyxiating. My curiosity was directed toward my father’s homeland, the Guajira, the northernmost section of Colombia’s map in the Caribbean coast, where the country’s first drug boom took place in the 1970s around marijuana, not cocaine. Trying to connect with that other side of my family and with my own roots, I began to explore that story almost 15 years ago. Now it’s a book.

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Dr. Lina Britto

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring

Before marijuana became mainstream and half of the states in this country legalized it completely, a group of young economists in Colombia, the country that supplied most of the weed that the hippies smoked in the United States at the time, proposed legalization. The idea was presented during a publicized conference in Bogotá that U.S. diplomats and scientists attended. The goal was to provide policymakers with an alternative solution other than the bloody war that Washington and Bogotá waged together against producers and traffickers in Colombia. But the time was not ripe yet. In 1979, such a bold idea only served to infuriate those who believed in the “war on drugs.” So, before consumers and their advocates got crushed here in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, the forces that called for a less punitive solution to the drug problem got silenced in Colombia. Their political defeat during this month-long debate marked the end of the idea of marijuana legalization in both countries. Only in the last decade, this idea resurfaced again, this time under a completely different set of circumstances and results.

 Is this part of a larger project?  What else are you working on?

Yes, this is a small section in one of the chapters of my forthcoming book, entitled Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise, which will be published by the University of California Press in 2020. Additionally, I’m in the phase of conceptualization and exploration of my second book project, which will examine the history of my hometown, Medellín, during its transition from an industrial pole of development to a cocaine dystopia, but from a counterintuitive perspective. Again, swimming against the current.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I see colleagues doing all kinds of things, some of them quite creative. As a Latin Americanists, what I would love to see more of are twentieth-century regional and national histories of countries that are apparently peripheric for the transnational drug trade business in the Americas, however central in ways that we don’t understand yet, such as Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile.

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

First, I’d go out for brunch with Elena Poniatowska, one of the greatest Latin American thinkers of our times, a journalist, a novelist, a trailblazer, a true artist in the widest sense of the term. And then I’d have dinner with E.P. Thompson to pick his brain about my second book project. That’d be a good Sunday.

SHAD Interview: “Mexico’s Dirty War on Drugs: Source Control and Dissidence in Drug Enforcement” with Aileen Teague

Editor’s Note: This week we’ll continue our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which focuses on the intersection of drugs and US foreign relations. Today we’re excited to talk to Aileen Teague, currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. After her fellowship, she will begin her appointment as Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. She completed her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University in 2018. Aileen specializes in the history of U.S.-Mexico (Latin America) Relations, Drug Control, and National Security. Her work has been supported by a number of fellowships and grants including Fulbright and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. She is currently revising her dissertation into a book manuscript. You can read Aileen’s article in its entirety (until May 1!) here.

Screenshot 2019-04-15 at 12.53.06 PMTell readers a little bit about yourself

I am a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and will begin as Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service next year. I was born in Colon, Panama, traveled the world as part of a military family, and served in the Marine Corps prior to my academic career.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

As someone who has lived or worked on a number of overseas U.S. military bases (Panama Canal Zone, Guantanamo, Okinawa, the Philippines, etc.), my larger interest has always been U.S. interventionism. By the 1970s and 1980s questions of U.S. anti-drug interventionism become entangled in U.S. domestic policy issues in a singular way that drew me in, and I haven’t looked back!

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Aileen Teague

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring.

Many of us are familiar with Mexico’s more recent drug violence and powerful drug cartels. My work provides a historical explanation of how we got here. It points to the 1970s as a critical period in establishing U.S. and Mexican drug enforcement policies, strategies, and tactics, which have played a role in shaping current antidrug issues and the landscape of border security.  

Is this part of a larger project?  What else are you working on?

My article draws from my dissertation, which I am currently revising into a book manuscript.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I think the future of the field, especially with respect to contemporary drug history in Mexico, will involve a lot more oral history gathering, engagement with journalistic narratives, and will thrive with the declassification of archival materials in the coming years.

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

Mark Twain; he was such a keen observer and commenter of society and culture during one of the most interesting periods in American history.

SHAD Interview: “‘It’s That Difficult of a Terrain’: Opium, Development, and Territoriality in US-Afghan Relations, 1940s-1970s” with co-editor Daniel Weimer

Editor’s Note: Today we present the second interview in our SHAD series. Dr. Daniel Weimer co-edited the newest issue of SHAD with Matt Pembleton and was, until recently, an associate professor of history at Wheeling Jesuit University. He is the author of Seeing Drugs: Modernization, Counterinsurgency, and U.S. Narcotics Control in the Third World, 1969–1976 (Kent State University Press, 2011) and “The Politics of Contamination: Herbicides, Drug Control, and Environmental Law” (Diplomatic History, Nov. 2017). His article is in the newest issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, published with the University of Chicago Press, and can be viewed in entirety (until May 1) here.

Screenshot 2019-04-15 at 12.53.06 PMTell our readers a little bit about yourself

I’m a historian of drugs and foreign relations, the main topics I’ve investigated for two decades now. For the past thirteen years I’ve taught at Wheeling Jesuit University, but the wave of higher ed. “disruption” has recently brought that to a close. However, I’ll continue to pursue history as an independent scholar, as there’s so much left to explore.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

In grad school (Kent State University) I studied U.S. foreign relations and came at drug history from that angle while reading about the “G.I. heroin epidemic” during the Vietnam War. My adviser, Anne Heiss, suggested I contact Bill Walker about my interests. Bill was super supportive in helping me with my dissertation (and book, Seeing Drugs) that looked at modernization theory and drug policy during the 1970s. Interestingly—one of those quirky moments of synchronicity—when I was first working on my dissertation, I was using Bill’s book Drugs in the Western Hemisphere. Bill had dedicated the book to Richard Craig. I didn’t know Richard Craig, but across the hall from the history department was the political science department and I happened to notice the name “Richard Craig” on the faculty list posted on the wall. Well, I walked in and it was the same person. Bill’s work on Latin America and Richard’s work on 1970s Mexican drug policy led me to later focus on herbicides in drug control and to the larger issue of how environmental history and drug history overlap. Which gets to my SHAD piece on Afghanistan.

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Daniel Weimer

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring.

We hear a lot about opium and heroin production in Afghanistan and that despite the U.S. and others devoting a lot of resources to suppress opium cultivation and trafficking, the rate of production hasn’t budged. Why is that? There’s many reasons, but the economic realities of most poppy farmers’ lives and the environments (topography, climate, ecology) in which they live have long been powerful forces that the U.S. and international community can’t counteract. In short, Afghanistan sits in a poppy-friendly environment and creating other means of livelihood for opium producers, particularly in light of nearly four decades of political instability and violent conflict, is a monumental (if not) impossible task. And this is not something officials have only realized since the U.S. invasion in 2001, or even during the Soviet occupation and subsequent civil war of the 1980s and 1990s. U.S. and UN officials have recognized these challenges since before World War II.

Is this part of a larger project?  What else are you working on?

As Matt mentioned, this special issue of SHAD is part of two-part project with related articles on drugs and foreign relations still in development (but hopefully on the near horizon). Since the last question in this interview is about dinner with scholars, I need to mention that this project all began at the 2015 SHAFR (Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations) Conference. It was then that Bill McAllister assembled the “cartel” for dinner—with myself, Matt, and Aileen, along with others, discussing our various projects. About a year later, Matt contacted me and since then we’ve worked on this project through various iterations and rosters. It’s very gratifying, then, to see the culmination of everyone’s work and I’m grateful to everyone for persisting and doing what they do.

As for my own investigations, I’d like to keep with the drugs and environmental history theme. One idea I’ve been kicking around for a bit is seeing if there’s any connections between the volumes of drug-crop production data and the charting of climate change.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I’ll first reference Matt’s statements about the need for a “global accounting” of the U.S. drug war and the integration of legal drugs (not just illicit) into foreign relations scholarship. But beyond that (and the other topics we mention in our introduction), I see the continuing de-centering of the U.S. as the only/main driver of global drug control as an important thread in drug history. Also, the demand/treatment side of drug history and the lived experiences of users and drug-trafficking workers are two other areas in need of investigation.

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

I’m convinced Emma Goldman and Michael Taussig would make for great dinner companions.

SHAD Interview: “US Foreign Relations and the New Drug History,” with co-editor Matthew R. Pembleton

Editor’s Note: Today, and for the next few weeks, we’re excited to present interviews with the authors of the first issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs to be published with the University of Chicago Press. Even better, the articles are all available to read for free until May 1. Today we talk with contributing editor Dr. Matthew R. Pembleton, who served as guest co-editor of this issue with Daniel Weimer (more from him on Thursday!). You can read their editors’ note here. We hope you enjoy these interviews, and we also hope you’ll consider subscribing to the journal to read all the great ADHS scholarship to come!

Screenshot 2019-04-15 at 12.53.06 PMTell readers a little bit about yourself

I’m an adjunct lecturer at American University, where I finished my PhD in 2014.  I’m also a Fellow at DC Policy Center and a consultant at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, where I’m working on a project about the 150 year+ history of the Academy complex.  I’ve been in the DC region for most of my life, which I guess make me a swamp creature–just not one of the well compensated ones.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

I actually came to the history of drugs from the angle of enforcement and control (womp womp) as a grad student.  I was (and am) particularly interested in the dilemmas that accompanied foreign drug enforcement and the overlap with national security, in terms of both operations and ideology.  That was basically the initial impulse that resulted in my first book, Containing Addiction: The Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Origins of America’s Global Drug War (UMass, 2017) – which just won a prize and is available at fine retailers now!

As I started to dig into the misadventures of American drug cops poking around in places like post-WWII Turkey and Italy, I realized that US counternarcotic strategy was premised on a particular theory of drugs and if I wanted to understand how the US government saw drugs, I had to understand the history of addiction.  So I kind of started from US foreign policy and the US in the world and backed into the history of addiction, science and medicine, and public health etc. And as I started to examine the question of why some drugs are policed but others are not, I feel like that’s when my scholarship really began to open up.

At one point in this journey, one of my advisors explained how grad students and early career academics are associated with their dissertation topics and what historical subject that do, and he warned me that I would be known as a historian who does drugs.  He was very pleased with himself at the time.  And to which I would now reply: we are all of us drug users of one kind or another, which is part of what makes this field so interesting and useful.

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Matthew R. Pembleton

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring.

Because many drug products are global (or at least regional) commodities, there’s a fundamental foreign relations component to the history of drugs.  And because the United States has long been one of the most prolific consumers of drugs–both legal and illegal–as well as the most active proponent of global control, the US has a special role in this history.

Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of great work on drugs as an element of US foreign policy as well as those international and global dimensions of drug history.  So the project, which I edited with my colleague Dan Weimer, features some of the most interesting and promising scholarship on the intersection of these two subjects. In the volume we cover US colonial drug control in the Philippines, the national security dimensions of the Marihuana Tax Act, the way drug enforcement tends to overlap with counterinsurgency in places like Mexico, the mutual impact of failed 70s-era decriminalization debates in  Colombia and the US, and the environmental and ecological challenges of drug control in Afghanistan.

Is this part of a larger project?  What else are you working on?

Indeed it is.  This first half features more in-depth archive driven case studies.  There’s a second half that’s more about theory, methods, and historiography making its way through the review process.  So stay tuned for more. Meanwhile, I’ve got a couple of new projects of my own in development… (he answered cryptically).

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

We actually address this directly at the end of the intro, because this was one of the elements that Dan and I were really interested in when we first set out on this project a few years ago.  I’ll point out two areas for now.

One is a global accounting of the US drug war.  The DEA currently operates 90 offices in 69 countries all around the world.  There are American drug cops on every continent but Antarctica. That makes it a real challenge to understand the full, local impact of the drug war.  I think a drug war version of something like Odd Arne Westad’s The Global Cold War (Cambridge U, 2007) is super necessary, but DEA records are essentially nonexistent and the level of foreign language/archive research that would be needed is daunting.  One day perhaps…

The other major frontier, as Dan and I see it, is something that ADHS has been actually working on for a while which is the historically contingent line between legal and illegal drugs, and we were really interested in pushing beyond the legal category of “narcotics” or Schedule 1 controlled substances as an element of US foreign policy.  We kind of struggled with that, because US foreign policy is primarily interested in illegal drugs. But I’m encouraged by recent books like Nan Enstad’s Cigarettes, Inc (U Chicago, 2018) and think that would be a fruitful direction for scholarship on drugs as an element of US foreign policy.  What will a global history of the opioid epidemic look like and what influence does Big Pharma have on the role of the US in the world?

BONUS QUESTION: What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

My humor can run kinda dark so it would be fun to sit down with Ambrose Bierce and H.L. Mencken and bemoan the state of the world.  It would interesting to try to explain Trump to two of the greatest and most cutting satirists in American history, though I’d almost certainly be horrified by Menken’s racism and wouldn’t want to plan any research trips with Bierce.

La Droit de la Drogue: Hachichins, Orientalist Imaginings, and Fears of Foreign Drug Use in France’s Legal Code

Editor’s Note: After bringing Points readers a fantastic write-up of the event itself, Dr. David A. Guba Jr. (Bard Early College, Baltimore) now presents a blog post on the research he presented at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference, held from April 19-20, 2018, at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. In it, Guba explains how, in the wake of the 1968 social uprisings, Orientalist fears and a longing for isolationism worked their way into France’s new drug policy. Enjoy!

On 17 October 1968, the French National Assembly met to discuss the nation’s efforts to combat international drug trafficking and the urgent need to enact new laws within France to address a recent surge in drug-related arrests among university-age youths. Alarmed by the student rebellions of May and June, politicians across the ideological spectrum moved to strengthen the nation’s commitment to the U.N. Single Convention of 1961, and many believed that in such a time of crisis, the French government should go beyond the Convention’s protocols and harden its own legal system against the growing scourge of drug use among the nation’s rebellious youth. After a series of discussions lasting until December of 1970, the Assembly passed the Droit de la Drogue, then the most comprehensive legal measure taken in modern France against the traffic, sale, and use of illicit substances and the basis of French drug laws today.

During the debates leading up to the passing of the 1970 Drug Law, French politicians and consulting medical, public health, and legal professionals described the nation’s social unrest and drug problems as a single, foreign-born “plague,” spread to France by Arab drug traffickers and provocateurs set on undermining the health and moral constitution of the body politic. In his address to the Assembly at the first open debate in October 1969, Gaullist Pierre Mazeaud, a French jurist and professor of law, urged the French government to do all it could to catch and expel “undesirable foreigners” engaged in drug smuggling, including “hippies” and “persons who travel excessively to the Middle or Far Orient.”(1) Daniel Benoist, a socialist deputy in the Assembly, echoed Mazeud, arguing that the student rebellions and the rise in drug-related arrests both stemmed from “the introduction of foreign elements into our country that brought with them radical philosophies and at the same time drugs.”(2) These alien ideas and drugs, Benoist concluded, had duped France’s youth with promises of “artificial paradise” and thus caused the current state of crisis in French society.(3) Driving the point home, fellow socialist deputy René Chazelle reminded the Assembly that the word “assassin” shared an etymology with word “hashish,” both deriving from the name of an ancient cult of cannabis-smoking murderers in the Islamic world, the Hachichins. Pointing to the recent student rebellion and spike in drug-related arrests (and especially hashish-related arrests), Chazelle warned his audience: “This filiation of drugs and crime is not simply assonance, it is today a reality.”


“Le Club des Hachichins de Paris,” from A Nous Paris

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The Real History of France’s First Anti-Drug Law

Myth: Napoleon Bonaparte created the first anti-marijuana law in modern history during his military campaign to Egypt around 1800.


Monsieur Bonaparte

For nearly a century, scholars and amateur historians have told their readers, quite incorrectly it turns out, that in October of 1800 Napoleon Bonaparte passed an official ban on hashish across Egypt after personally observing rampant use of the drug among Egyptians and his rank and file. For most historians of drugs and prohibition, the hashish ban of October 1800 marks the first anti-drug law in modern history and thus the starting point for histories of drugs and prohibition in the Western world. But in October of 1800, Napoleon was neither in Egypt nor was he the ranking General in Chief of the French Army of the Orient attempting to colonize the country.

Frustrated by his repeated setbacks in Egypt, Napoleon abandoned the Army of the Orient in August of 1799 and departed for France to begin his meteoric rise to power. Command in Egypt passed to Jean-Baptiste Kléber, one of the most celebrated generals in French history, who controlled the colony until a Kurdish student from Aleppo called Suliman El-Halebi assassinated him in June of 1800. After Kléber’s assassination, Jacques-François “Abdallah” Menou, the divisional commander of Rosetta, took over as General in Chief. When Abdallah Menou passed the hashish ban in Egypt in early October of 1800, First Consul Napoleon was nearly 3200 kilometers away in Paris fending off the famous “dagger plot” and preoccupied with a growing war in Europe against Austria and the Second Coalition. And a close reading of official correspondence between Paris and Alexandria throughout 1800 reveals that Napoleon had no involvement in or even knowledge of the hashish ban in Egypt passed by Menou in October. Why, then, has this myth of Napoleon banning hashish in Egypt appeared and reappeared as an historical fact for so long, and what has this myth hidden from us about the real historical circumstances that produced the first drug prohibition measure in modern Western history?

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