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New Perspectives on Global Drug Control

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Editor’s note: In today’s post, we highlight a few recent dissertations on drug control and politics from national, international, and transnational perspectives. These entries are part of an ongoing drug-related dissertation bibliography being compiled by Jonathon Erlen, which was formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but is now periodically featured on the Points blog. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

Martin Behrman and the Regulars: Beer, War, Sex, and the Roots of Modern American Politics

Author: Criss, Ralph Eric

Abstract: The proper role of government at all levels—local, state and federal—has been debated since the birth of the Republic. This project explores that debate by illustrating how a variety of social and political issues manifested themselves in the real life of New Orleans’ longest serving mayor, Martin Behrman, and the lives of millions of other Americans, in the early twentieth century. Integral to the story of Martin Behrman’s life is the tale of Storyville—the infamous red-light district—the growth of the beer industry, and World War I. These matters were bound together in a ball of confusion surrounding the act of congress authorizing the war and its funding. Specifically, questions poured in from across the nation, asking which parts of American cities sailors could visit, whether or not sailors and soldiers were to be treated equally under the law, and even whether or not a civilian could buy a soldier a cold beer to say “thank you” for his service. In this way, the politics of beer, sex, and reform exploded across the United States. In Louisiana, these issues contributed to the defeat of Martin Behrman in the mayoral election of 1920, the weakening of the “Regular” political machine, and the ascent Huey Long, the “Kingfish.” Many of the same legal and moral questions that were asked in 1915 are now asked in 2015 as presidential candidates jockey for position in the presidential primaries of both major parties. How much federal government intrusion into the private lives of citizens is appropriate, given the urgent need to protect the nation from terrorism? Which civil liberties may be encroached upon and to what extent? What is government’s role in promoting public health, fair wages, and morality? What is the appropriate role of the federal government versus states and localities, especially during wartime? How do we handle the large numbers of immigrants flocking to our shores—from both a policy and rhetorical perspective? Answers to such questions constituted the political fault lines of the early twentieth century, as they do today. This study does not attempt to answer the policy questions above. Rather, it seeks to add context to debates surrounding them and to demonstrate their durability. The challenge is how to discuss these complex issues in a concise and cohesive manner. The author chose the political career of the longest serving mayor in the history of New Orleans to act as the glue that holds the narrative together.

Publication year: 2015

Advisor: Jumonville, Neil

Committee members: Bonn, Mark; Creswell, Michael; Gray, Edward; Stoltzfus, Nathan

University/institution: The Florida State University

Department: History

The Origin of Contemporary Drug Contraband: A Global Interpretation From Sinaloa

Author: Enciso Higuera, Froylan Vladimir

Abstract: This dissertation charts the longer history of contemporary drug contraband by focusing on the Pacific state of Sinaloa, the cradle of the Mexican drug trade. Historians working on drug trades in Latin America have now produced many accounts of the development of global drug commodity chains, and of the origins of drug prohibition regimes as well as smuggling and illicit flows. This dissertation is different in its attempt to trace the emergence of drug trafficking as a historically specific set of relationships emerging between states—above all, the United States and Mexico–and global markets, all mediated by shifting cultures of medical and social understandings of pleasure and pain. Drug trafficking from and into the United States began in connection with Pacific World trade booms in the nineteenth century, and by definition, when United States the outlawed free trade in narcotics in 1914. Marijuana cultivation has a long history in Mexico, and poppy cultivation dates at least a century, brought to Mexico by the Spanish Crown and Chinese laborers imported to work in mines and railroads. Anti-immigrant sentiments, Pacific trade, and incipient pharmaceutical machinations —including imports of marijuana seed and other controlled substances from U.S. companies such as the Pacific Drug Company in Seattle, Langley and Michaels Co. in San Francisco and Wells Fargo— created the initial early twentieth century conditions for the Sinaloa drug trade. By the 1920s, members of Sinaloa’s economic elite and American entrepreneurs, facing constraints of the growing international trade control of pharmaceutical drugs and land redistribution after the Mexican Revolution, enlisted peasants in opium and marijuana growing. This raised production levels using the regional infrastructure recently developed for agricultural shipping to deliver marijuana, opium and heroin north. Utilizing archival materials largely off-limits to researchers until recent openings in Mexico’s authoritarian regime, the thesis also documents the deep involvements of Mexican and American government officials and corporate interests in drug trafficking from its inception. This work highlights historical contradictions at the core of drug prohibition in North America.

Publication year: 2015

Advisor: Gootenberg, Paul

Committee member: Carey, Elaine; Larson, Brooke; Zolov, Eric

University/institution: State University of New York at Stony Brook

Department: History

A Scourge of Humanity: International Crime, Law, and Policing in Interwar Europe

Author: Petruccelli, David C.

Abstract: This dissertation explores the campaign against international crime in Europe between 1918 and 1939. Focusing on the work of the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC, today known as Interpol) and the International Bureau for the Unification of Penal Law, it argues that police and jurists from Eastern and Central Europe developed ideas for internationalizing the fight against crime in response to the concrete challenges facing a region contending with the collapse of the European land empires during and after the First World War. The solutions they developed would, by the 1930s, be at the forefront of the international community’s efforts to develop legal and administrative frameworks for fighting international crime through the League of Nations. Founded in Vienna in 1923, the ICPC sprang from a specific geopolitical vision of its founder, the Vienna Police President Johannes Schober, for reintegrating administrative networks severed by the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The ICPC promoted the centralization of national policing, the informal exchange of police materials outside of diplomatic or legal channels, and the building of an international police office in Vienna. The Romanian jurist Vespasien V. Pella and other members of the International Bureau for the Unification of Penal Law also responded to the specific challenges facing post-imperial Central and Eastern Europe. They turned to a gradualist program of unifying international norms around specific international offenses after early efforts to codify a body of international criminal law to prosecute war crimes failed. The two institutions came together around a common agenda in response to a plot by Hungarian nationalists to counterfeit French currency in order to finance a revisionist program in Central Europe. Jurists from the unification movement and police officials from the ICPC participated in drafting a convention, completed under the auspices of the League of Nations in 1929. This document laid the basis for a wide-ranging program against international crime in the 1930s. One field of activity was the fight against the traffic in women. In the 1920s, voluntary organizations dedicated to fighting the state tolerance of brothels dominated League anti-trafficking activities. In the 1930s, these activists were replaced out by representatives of police and jurists pushing for the treatment of trafficking above all as an international crime. This laid the groundwork for the UN’s fight against prostitution and human trafficking. Drugs represented another field of activism for the ICPC. In the 1920s and 1930s, narcotics were transformed, largely through the work of the League of Nations, from lightly regulated medicinal and consumer goods into substances subject to strict international controls. In the 1920s, Britain took the lead in pushing for the regulation of the manufacture and distribution of narcotics. The gradual imposition of controls on licit production spawned extensive illicit trafficking networks. In the face of the growing illicit trade, Britain’s regulatory approach gave way to a vision premised on the criminalization of traffickers and the establishment of effective cross-border police cooperation. The ICPC played a leading role in this transformation. In the 1930s, the commission vied with American narcotics police to develop a system for the international policing of drugs. The issue of terrorism showed the limits of the common program by international jurists and police to fight international crime. The assassination of the Yugoslav king in 1934 led the League of Nations to draft a convention on terrorism and an affiliated international convention to found an international criminal court, both signed in 1937. While Pella and his colleagues participated in the drafting of the convention, the ICPC chose not to get involved. In the second half of the 1930s, the German police increasingly exerted influence within the commission and worked to sever ties between it and the League of Nations. By tracing the international campaign against crime between the wars, this dissertation challenges the mainstream view of the League of Nations as a body promoting liberal internationalist views. While such a program was clearly at the center of the League’s activities, Geneva attracted a range of projects, including illiberal ones. The post-imperial internationalism developed by Central and Eastern European jurists and police, far from liberal in its conception and aims, increasingly shaped the international agenda in the 1930s. This dissertation argues that the programs developed by these jurists and police officials were central to interwar efforts to fight international crime and that the institutions and ideas they developed continue to shape our world today.

Publication year: 2015

Advisor: Snyder, Timothy; Tooze, Adam

University/institution: Yale University


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