International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs

David Mares

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online November 2011 | | DOI:
International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs

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The subject of the illegal drug trade crops up in all the subfields of political science and is used in all of the methodological approaches taken by political scientists. The United States has been fighting a war on drugs for four decades, which provides ample material for public policy analysis and studies of the policymaking process. Race and ethnicity have always been linked with the reporting of crimes associated with drug use and sale, and thus the topic surfaces in studies of racism and class conflict. Legal issues are at the very core of the topic as are civil rights, which thus brings in perspectives from the law and society analysts. Despite well-documented scientific evidence regarding their association with health and social problems, alcohol was prohibited for only a limited time in a number of Western or Western-dominated countries, and tobacco never was. The relationship among science, politics, and public policy attracts political scientists interested in interdisciplinary studies. Political theorists can debate the limits of individual and societal rights using the topic of drugs, or the boundaries of democratic rule. Comparativists will find that virtually every variable utilized in this subfield has been argued to explain the difference among countries regarding drug use, sale, and production or levels of money laundering or violence. The drug trade, by its very nature as an international phenomenon operating under an international regime that determines its legality, is a fruitful case for international relations scholars, whether they use realist, institutionalist, or constructivist methodologies. Variations in which substances are regulated, by what means, in which countries (even within countries), and for how long should constitute the foundations for any study of the international political economy of illegal drugs. Because most studies focus on what I term “the unholy Trinity” of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, this article opens with a general overview of illegal drugs and pays particular attention to studies that recognize that Ecstasy, methamphetamine, and other synthetic drugs are used more than heroin, and in many countries, more than cocaine. Similarly, discussions about the “drug” trade misleadingly tend to divide countries into poor and weak “producing” states and rich “consuming” states; thus analyses of production, trafficking and money laundering, organized crime, and violence in “rich” countries form an important part of this bibliography. The first half of this article is heavily theoretical and comparative, while the second focuses more on specific countries and international institutions.

Article.  10400 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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