It is now a matter of historical record that when Nixon and his aides officially launched their ‘war on drugs’ in the late 1960s, their express intention was to criminalise black radicalism and the counterculture. But the link between racism and the drug war goes back much further than that: the prohibition of recreational drug use has been founded on explicit racism since the early 20th century. In a longer historical context, the story gets even weirder. The ‘opium wars’ of the mid 19th century were fought by Britain to force China to accept imports of opium from British-controlled India. At the same time, generations of white bohemians have embraced drugs as a technology of self-transformation at least since the days of Coleridge and Byron.
What are the implications of this history for understanding the politics of prohibition and drug use today? How does the fightback agains the ‘war on drugs’ intersect with the politics of Black Lives matter? What would a radical, rational and democratic approach to the use and regulation of drugs in the 21st century look like? We discuss these and other issues with Kojo Koram, editor of The War on Drugs and the Global Colour Line; Mike Jay, author of High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture & Mescaline: a Global History of the First Psychedelic; Jeremy Gilbert, author of Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism and Debra Benita Shaw, author of Posthuman Urbanism: Mapping Bodies in Contemporary City Space.