For a comprehensive reading list please see here and a series of testimonies collected whilst writing the book can be read here.
Thirty-seven Articles and Papers (mainly) About Cocaine [PDFs]
This article looks at alcohol consumption in the US immediately after alcohol was made illegal in 1919. It shows that consumption rates dropped immediately after the ban was introduced, but soon returned to their pre-Prohibition rates. This suggests that banning a drug has surprisingly little impact on how much of it people choose to consume; one of the things I wanted to look at in my book was how much impact the legal context in which a drug is taken has on consumption rates.
History, Culture and Subjective Experience: An Exploration of the Social Bases of Drug-Induced Experiences
Howard Becker wrote Outsiders, a classic book about sub-cultures published in 1963. This article looks at how drug users school one another in how to take drugs. It also suggests that drug psychosis is highest when a drug is novel and people have yet to learn how to take it. Although this paper was written in 1967, it is still relevant today, when you consider present-day worries about links between use of skunk cannabis and mental illness.
The Beckley Foundation has done lots of excellent research of drug-related themes. This paper argues that the Mexican government's response to the rise of cocaine trafficking has been dominated by law enforcement and militarization policies, which do little to address drugs trafficking in the long term and actually draw attention away from the fundamental reforms to the police and justice systems that are needed.
Another paper from the Beckley Foundation. This one is a collection of lectures given at a roundtable discussion they held in 2003, asking how safe drugs are (and can be).
Philippe Bourgois wrote In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. He is one of the drug ethnographers whose work I relied on heavily to try to get the inside story of how the drug economy works. This paper makes an obvious point: people in hopeless situations are more likely to develop dependent relationships with drugs.
The Irrelevance of Drug Policy: Patterns And Careers Of Experienced Cannabis Use In The Populations Of Amsterdam, San Francisco And Bremen
Peter Cohen is another big name in the movement to end the criminalization of drug use. This paper, from 2001, looks at cannabis users in three cities with very different drug policing strategies. Cohen concludes that those strategies have little impact on the who, where, why and what of cannabis consumption.
Written by Peter Cohen in 1993, this article draws some surprisingly conclusions from ten years of observing cocaine use. Most of Amsterdam's cocaine users don't succumb to out-of-control drug use. Most just get bored of it after three years or so.
Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute wrote this paper in 2005. It is a good introduction to the pervasive corruption of the very forces that are supposed to tackle drug trafficking in Mexico. Drugs are often described as behaving as epidemics, but this paper suggests that the contamination metaphor is just as apt when describing how the cocaine trade has encouraged illegality and violence among state actors.
The Portuguese government decriminalized the possession of illegal drugs in 2001. This doesn't mean that they legalised drugs; rather, drug users face arrest, but don't go to jail. Instead, they are usually referred to drug treatment services (even if they were just smoking cannabis). This paper looks at the impact decriminalization has had on drug consumption in Portugal.
John Hagedorn's report dates from 1998, but it is still an eye-opening look at how drug dealing in Milwaukee fits into the wider legal economy, the relatively low levels of violence deployed in stable drug dealing neighbourhoods and the low risk of arrest faced by dealers.
Ethan Nadelmann is the current head of the Drug Policy Alliance, the United States' biggest drug law reform campaign. Nadelmann wrote this paper in 1987, but his interviews with serving DEA agents and their stories of corruption, compromise and co-option are as prescient as ever.
In fact, just a snippet from that report that deals with Sigmund Freud's cocaine experiences. Freud's initial enthusiasm and later repudiation of the drug are often taken as a warning for would-be cocaine users. This paper suggests that the truth was less straightforward.
This report was issued by the Government Accounting Office of the United States in 1998, in response to questions asked by Congressman Charles Rangel regarding the extent of police collusion with and corruption by drugs traffickers.
‘(Mexican President) Calderón's strategy for cracking down on the cartels has backfired – and the ongoing violence may cost his party power.' A comment piece by Daniel Manrique, published in the Guardian in February 2009.
An illuminating article by Frank Smyth, published in the Texas Observer in November 2005. It purports to show how and why the Guatemalan military is shielded from investigation by its allies in Washington. As a consequence, and despite the much-vaunted ‘war' on drugs trafficking, most of the cocaine bound for the American market passes through Guatemala.
I read this article in Harpers magazine; it had a big impact on me at the time. Today, I read somewhere else that the United States has a ‘werewolf' attitude to violence. I suppose this means that violence is regarded as latent within all of us and by implication, that some of us are better at keeping that violence under control than others – some are less werewolf than others. While that may well be true, it's a sorry excuse for the endemic violence created by the drugs trade. In the Mexican context, the levels of violence described by this sicario would have been unimaginable just 20 years ago. They're entirely down to the migration of cocaine trafficking routes from the Caribbean into Mexico.
This report was produced by the Matrix Group for the Home Office in 2007. It's based on interviews conducted with drugs traffickers in jail in the UK.
A report from the International Crisis Group, which is a very thorough source of information about the civil conflict in Colombia in particular. This report from 2008 looks at coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.
I've included this article as an example of ‘made-to measure' coverage of drug-related issues in the American press, by which I mean stories that might tally with readers' expectations, but have little basis in reality, also known as scary fairy stories. The ‘crack baby' scare is another example. Janet Cooke won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for ‘Jimmy's World', her story about an 8 year-old heroin addict, which was published in the Washington Post (she had to give the prize back when it came to light that she's fabricated the story).
Steven Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh are best known for writing Freakonomics, which in turn, is best known for its look at how much money a neighbourhood drug dealer really makes. Like drug ethnographers such as Rick Curtis and Philippe Bourgois, Levitt and Venkatesh secured access to study drug-selling gangs up close. They found that ‘on average, earnings in the gang are somewhat above the legitimate labour market alternative. The enormous risks of drug selling, however, more than offset this small wage premium. Compensation within the gang is highly skewed, and the prospect of future riches, not current wages, is the primary economic motivation.' But they also say that ‘economic factors alone are unlikely to adequately explain individual participation in the gang or gang behaviour.''
Understanding Why Crime Fell In The 1990s: Four Factors That Explain The Decline And Six That Do Not
Another sterling piece of work from Steven Levitt, this article challenges the widely-held notion that zero tolerance policing and the ‘broken windows' school of regenerating run-down neighbourhoods were responsible for the huge drops in crime rates across the United States in the 1990s.
This was published by the Criminal Policy Research Unit at South Bank University in 2003. It seemed to me to be a pretty thorough look at who takes crack and why.
The executive summary of this report closes by saying: ‘Although many in society still view drug abuse as a social or moral problem best handled through the criminal justice system, the growing scientific evidence suggests instead that addiction is a chronic, relapsing and treatable brain disorder that can result from the prolonged effects of drugs on the brain.'
‘By suspending belief that an objective world exists to be reported, we develop a conception of news as a constructed reality.' Worth reading in the context of the panic around crack use in the United States in the 1980s.
Article from the University of Chicago Law review from 1998. ‘One "big bust" can provide a task force with the resources to become financially independent.' This piece focuses on the rewriting of existing federal aid and forfeiture laws specifically to promote and finance drug law enforcement. It shows that encouraging police to target drug dealers' assets actually undermines drug law enforcement strategies.
This article was published in the Lancet in 2007. It was co-written by David Nutt, the drug policy advisor to the UK government, dismissed from his post in 2009 for criticizing current drug policy (what came to be known as the ‘Nutt sack affair')
This article is by Peter Reuter, probably the single best authority on the ineffectiveness of policies devised to counter the world drugs trade. The extent of the problem can be surmised from his contention that none of the authorities have much clue of just how big the drugs trade is.
Rick Curtis has done great work as a ethnographer of drug users and sellers in New York City. Here, he shows how the gentrification of the Lower East Side displaced problematic drug users from Manhattan, but paved the way for a much less visible, but no less lucrative market for hard drugs among more affluent drug users.
Drugs – Facing Facts: The Report Of The RSA Commission On Illegal Drugs, Communities And Public Policy
The Royal Society of Arts published this 300-page examination of drug taking, drug dealing and the government's responses to each in 2007. It stops short of calling for illegal drugs to be made legal, but urges a fundamental re-think of just about everything else. It advocates decriminalization and harm reduction.
Harry Levine, author of Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice, makes a couple of pertinent points in this paper. First, that legal and illegal drugs should be discussed in the same breath, instead of assuming that their legal status is based on a scientific distinction between ‘safe' and ‘dangerous' substances. And second: the idea of ‘addiction' is a comparatively recent way of understanding a very old problem.
Peter Reuter addresses the fuzzy area where concrete stats on the drugs business should be. In this article from 1978, economist Francisco Thoumi does the same but with a sharper eye for how tragedy has become farce. Thoumi is very good on the Andean cocaine business as a whole too - see his Political Economy and Illegal Drugs in Colombia.
This report was written by the Transnational Institute, based in Amsterdam, which has published lots of in-depth criticism of drug policy around the world. It's full of good points. 'It is a mystery how a comparison between 1000 tons of cocaine produced now for an illicit market and the 15 tons licitly produced before cocaine was under international control can be presented as a success.'
For everyone who thinks that the legalization of illegal drugs like cocaine is pie in the sky, here is a detailed exposition of how it might work in practice, produced by the Bristol-based Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
This article from the Independent , published in 2008, gives a little background to rising cocaine use in the UK.
This is a translation from the Dutch of an article by Dr Erik van Ree called 'Angst voor Drugs', an abbreviated version of a lecture given in 1996 as part of a series of on taboos, organised by the Stichting Literaire Activiteiten Amsterdam. Taboos generally centre on our fears of unlimited sex and violence, i.e. phenomena linked to our primitive, animal state. Since drugs artificially induce irrationality they trigger similar fears of a relapse into an uncontrolled, irrational form of existence. Ironically, drugs are precisely for that reason a positive phenomenon. As a form of 'chemical carnival', providing a temporary and reversible slackening of the bonds of reason, they in fact indirectly serve to strengthen the societal framework.
This 1995 report has legendary status in certain circles, being the World Health Organisation's take on cocaine and coca. The American ambassador to the United Nations took great umbrage at its conclusions, which didn't exactly validate the United States policy of outright prohibition of all the products of the coca bush. He even threatened to withdraw US funding for the WHO if the report were ever published. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't.
A critical appraisal by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) of the United States' preferred policy for eradicating coca cultivation in the Andean nations.