“Blah Blah Blah”: The Fallacy of United Nations Drug Summits

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Blah Blah Blah” was the conclusion of environmental activist Greta Thunberg after the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. As Thunberg’s response indicates, thirty years of constructive climate dialogue has resulted in few changes—just the kicking of the status-quo can down the road—even though twenty eight climate summits since 1995 have spent billions of dollars on travel, salaries, marketing, public relations, lobbying and other resources. All of this with little to show. Dreams drowned in “empty words and promises” and no concrete results, as Thunberg said.

The same lack of progress could be said about the United Nations and its conferences about drug control. Instead of using children and young adults for their propaganda machine, though, they exploit the victims of the illicit drug trade in developing countries to advance their anti-drug rhetoric and empty promises.

UN 1965 opium tracking
At the laboratory of the Division of Narcotic Drugs of the UN Secretariat, located in Geneva, Dr. Olav Braenden (Norway), Chief of the Laboratory (left), and Mrs. Jane Beck (United Kingdom), indicate the regions where opium is produced in 1965. Image courtesy of the United Nations. UN Photo/PP, (Unique identifier: UN7632427).

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What We Left Behind in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

After twenty years of nation-building in Afghanistan, the United States leaves behind a country in shambles. It might be argued that we slowed down the momentum of terrorist cells and that we kept the Taliban in check for two decades. But there seem to be few positive long-terms stories to highlight—perhaps the empowerment of Afghan women; but that might not last very long under renewed Taliban rule.

Afghanistan is rich in natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious/semiprecious stones, and arable land [1]. But, during the American presence, the country was not targeted by the Western private sector to harness these potential economic development capabilities. The only real area of growth over the last two decades was opium production—that is perhaps our legacy in Afghanistan.

According to the most recent “Afghanistan Opium Survey” report of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan is the largest opium producer in the world [2]. UNODC also reported that the Taliban was the biggest buyer of opium and the biggest collector of opium production taxes as well [3]. Moreover, “sales of opium and poppy derivatives constituted the main source of income” for more than half of the population, and the “gross income from opiates exceeded the value of the country’s officially recorded licit exports in 2019″ [4].

Left: A poppy field in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 3, 2013. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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Personal Reflection about a World on Drugs

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Cocaineweb
Cocaine. Image courtesy of Marco Verch on Flickr.

Growing up in Colombia during the 1970s and early 1980s was an eye-opening experience. As a teenager living through the daily tensions of a country in constant social turmoil and violence, the thought of worrying or even thinking about marijuana, heroin, or cocaine, and their impact on the world was irrelevant. Illicit drugs and awareness campaigns were not part of the country’s social, health, or educational policies. The internal use of drugs, from my perspective at the time, was almost nonexistent. This was a problem of the marginalized and the homeless—at least that is what my Grandmother used to say. The real problems were poverty, political violence, and corruption. I quickly learned in the mid-1980s, though, when I started to travel to the United States in order to live with my Dad in Brownsville, Texas, that Colombia’s internal social, political, and economic problems (not to mention environmental problems, which I did not think about back then) were mostly repercussions of the US War on Drugs.

I vividly remember a trip to the United States when I was just 14-years old. Soon after landing at the Miami airport, I was asked by the immigration officer to step aside and follow the other officers who, out of nowhere, appeared next to me to accompany me to another section of the baggage claim area where they opened my suitcase, searched me, and questioned me about bringing in drugs into the country. The stigma of having a US passport that says that I was born in Colombia still haunts me today—and perhaps will for the rest of my life. Since then, I have been stripped and deep-searched by US customs and Colombian customs officers on so many occasions that I have built some sort of travel paranoia.

The recurring experiences of being targeted and psychologically abused while traveling inspired me to constantly reflect on the local and global impacts of illicit drugs and, more particularly, on the social, cultural, economic, and political constructs that have resulted from the American War on Drugs. My overarching conclusion when it comes to illicit drugs is that American and other Western societies are hypocritical when facing the impacts of their own addictions and relationships to drugs. With the blessing of their governments, Western societies have lived, continue to live, and will live under a social construct that advances the idea that the problem with drugs is foreign and external. When in reality, the problem is deeply rooted in Western culture itself.

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Pablo Cáceres Corrales: “Narcotics Trafficking is Just Another Superstructure of Globalization”—Part II

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

As I explained in my first post about Pablo Cáceres Corrales’s research and writing: “narcotrafficking is an essential part of the deregulated dynamics that allows the global market system to navigate the thin line between formality and informality” [1]. In his book, Las Formas Cambiantes de la Criminalidad (The Changing Forms of Criminality), Dr. Cáceres explains how multinational corporations, local and federal governments, and numerous public and private stakeholders have capitalized on the informal market to strengthen or increase their own capabilities. Globalization under neoliberal principles facilitates interdependent relationships between the formal and informal sectors. Contraband, money laundering, state corruption, and the use of shell companies are integral parts of current international business strategies.

Dr. Cáceres argues that criminality changes with time and space; it adapts to the changing social, political, cultural, economic, and technological dynamics of local and international markets [2]. Today, criminal organizations work side-by-side with legitimate business organizations; they feed off of each other, and—incrementally—depend more and more on each other. This type of symbiotic relationship that allows formal and informal sectors to work together is often today’s current spatial and temporal landscape. Governments, through their push for neoliberal adjustments, facilitate and enhance these symbiotic relationships.

Capitalism, says Dr. Cáceres, has historically and continues today to operate in both the formal and informal markets [3]. He cites examples like the vibrant and underground markets in human trafficking, body organ trafficking, hair trafficking, child trafficking, animal trafficking, arms trafficking, drug trafficking, and the sale of innumerable types of contraband. The lucrative world of illicit activities has catapulted into the international market fictitious shell companies that facilitate the dynamics of this overwhelming counterfeit world.

Pablo Cáceres Corrales

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Pablo Cáceres Corrales: “Narcotics Trafficking is Just Another Superstructure of Globalization”—Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

The intellectual, political, social, economic, environmental, and cultural ideas behind narcotics trafficking are front-loaded with Western constructs. This vision has often been imposed by force across the world and more particularly in developing countries directly tied to the geopolitics and international political economy of narcotrafficking. Dr. Pablo Cáceres Corrales, a Colombian scholar and expert in comparative law, is a refreshing voice—a revisionist who points the finger not at supply-and-demand debates but at the nature of the business of narcotics and its interdependence and interconnectivity with market globalization.

From his perspective, narcotrafficking is an essential part of the deregulated dynamic that allows the global capitalist system to navigate the thin line between formality and informality. Narcotics trafficking, he argues, is just one of the many superstructures allowing the global market system to operate on all cylinders. Narcotrafficking provides the ability to move money globally while at the same time laundering resources from the informal to the formal market.

As president of Colombia’s Superior Council of Judicature during the deadliest phase of the 1990s War on Drugs, Dr. Cáceres witnessed first-hand the intricacies of the international business world of narcotics trafficking. Understanding criminality and criminal organizations became an intellectual passion that led him to study its global history. During the pursuit of his doctoral degree, soon after retiring from the judicial branch, it became clear to him that the explanation for Colombia’s violent reality rested on the broader superstructures of globalization.

In his latest and thoroughly researched book, Las Formas Cambiantes de la Criminalidad [The Changing Forms of Criminality] (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2016) Cáceres introduces us to the broad magnitude and expansive tentacles of contemporary criminal organizations and their interconnectedness to the world-wide market system.

Pablo Cáceres Corrales

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The Marijuana Experiment

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

It is difficult—and perhaps impossible—to judge whether or not marijuana use is good or bad. Much research is yet needed before we can draw any definitive conclusions. Ask the daily or the occasional consumer, and you will get one set of answers. Ask a person who has had a bad experience, and you might get a negative take. And ask the anti-marijuana moral champion, and you will possibly hear “the gateway to other drugs” story. In fact, there is no concrete answer;  the judgment is personal and deep inside the brain and soul of each individual.

Yet, the law continues to punish and ruin the lives of thousands of American citizens who do not have the luxury to live in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal or partially legal. One thing is clear, though, the marijuana map is changing with each election cycle, and, like every federal policy, the weight of the majority will force the minority of states to change when the right time comes. That time might be now—under the Biden administration—but it is not yet clear. Especially so, after the recent firing of five White House staffers for “past marijuana use.”

Marijuana Legalization Map
Map of marijuana legalization status by state (from disa.com).
Read here for more information about the state-by-state status of marijuana.

The United States, like many other countries around the world including Canada and Uruguay, seems to be transitioning towards a federally legal world of marijuana. But the American process is slow, because individual states still have leverage and power over the federal government. South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Kansas, Wyoming, and Idaho— where marijuana is fully illegal—may be holding the nation back, but they are now clearly in the minority. Perhaps the millions of dollars of tax revenue each of these states leaves on the table will eventually force their leaders and their communities to the negotiating table. Perhaps the first big victory will be the federal decriminalization of marijuana.

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Maine’s 2020 Marijuana Market Report

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

In the year 2020, the State of Maine officially legalized the sale of recreational marijuana—good timing for the industry, considering that the pandemic restrictions put in place by the administration of Governor Janet T. Mills provided an opportunity for medical and recreational users to sit back in their homes, relax, and partake in the consumption of cannabis. Initial sales of recreational marijuana in October 2020 set high expectations, but the opening boom was followed by an oversupply in local markets that hint at potential problems for the industry in years to come.

In the past, illegality kept marijuana prices high and supply low but not anymore. The legal market now faces the structural challenges of supply and demand, and, like any new rising commodity, cannabis must experiment with market adjustments, which will result in winners and losers. Unfortunately, it is small businesses that must confront these challenges in the middle of a pandemic. It is not all bad news for the consumer, though, since these are good times to enjoy the highest quality and abundant variety of “flower” in the state’s market history. Overall, there are good omens for the years to come.

In a tight November 2016 referendum that ultimately required a recount, the citizens of Maine voted to legalize medical and recreational marijuana production and consumption. The medical marijuana industry was quickly established and was up and running with little delay. The takeoff for recreational marijuana, however, was not as smooth. Opponents of legalization used legal and political tactics to delay the process with hopes of ultimately blocking recreational marijuana in the state. Nevertheless, the voters had spoken, and there was no turning back. In October 2020, almost four years after the legalization vote, Maine’s market for recreational marijuana finally launched.

One month after the first eight licensed recreational marijuana businesses opened their doors to customers, Maine authorities reported cannabis sales of $1.4 million, which brought the state $140,945 in sales tax collections. Initial data showed that smokable products represented 76% of total sales, while concentrates (14%) and cannabis-infused products (10%) made up the rest of the market.

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Bruce Bagley: Diving Too Deep into Primary Sources

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Unlike the posts we’ve published over the last few weeks, this one is not political. We could all use a distraction while we wait for the results tonight. Nonetheless, today is election day, and if you haven’t already, VOTE!

During his career as a professor of International Studies at the University of Miami, Dr. Bruce Bagley dove deep into the primary sources, researching the dynamics of drug trafficking and organized crime in the Americas–so deep that in June of 2020 he pleaded guilty to money laundering. According to Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Dr. Bagley used bank accounts in his name as well as a Florida bank account for a shell company he created in order to launder over $2 million from “proceeds of a Venezuelan bribery and corruption scheme into the United States.” Dr. Bagley, said Berman, went from researching and writing about organized crime and narcotics trafficking to actually “committing the crimes.” Incredible, but true.

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