Dr. Isaac Campos was recently interviewed by the North American Congress on Latin America for his insight into the “forces behind drug prohibition in Mexico.”  Dr. Campos notes, “The roots of the War on Drugs go deep in Mexico. In fact, in some ways, they are deeper there than in the United States.”  The full interview is available on the NACLA website.

When asked to describe his book, Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs, Dr. Campos explains,

My book is a history of marijuana in Mexico from its arrival in the 16th century through its prohibition there in 1920. It demonstrates that Mexico’s War on Drugs was very much a phenomenon of Mexico’s own making. The findings also suggest that Mexico’s experience and approach to marijuana proved critical in the development of that drug’s early history and prohibition in the United States. Home Grown revolves around marijuana’s reputation for producing madness and violence in its users. Marijuana was overwhelmingly associated with those effects from the 1850s through 1920, and that reputation made its prohibition almost an afterthought for Mexican policy makers. Thus the book traces the development of that reputation, in the process demonstrating how Mexican drug law evolved and how Mexico’s War on Drugs was born.

The book argues that marijuana’s nature was key to this process. Marijuana’s effects are highly unpredictable. It’s a drug that can produce anxiety, panic attacks, and even hallucinations at high doses. Like all drugs, however, marijuana’s effects are highly conditioned by the social and cultural “setting” of its use, and the psychological “set” of the users. Simply put, what people think is going to occur when they take a drug is often as important as any other factor in producing a particular effect. In Mexico, a country with the richest collection of hallucinogens on earth and where, since the 16th century, disputes over the use of such substances have been intimately linked to political and spiritual battles for control, it is not so surprising that the use of marijuana would soon be associated with madness and even violence. Indeed, I suggest that within this setting it is plausible that marijuana actually inspired “mad” behavior and violent outbursts, though until now scholars have universally shrugged off reports that marijuana caused such effects, deeming them the product of exaggeration and myth.

The interview is part of a larger discussion about Dr. Campos’ recent article, “In Search of Real Reform: Lessons From Mexico’s Long History of Drug Prohibition” which can be purchased and downloaded here.