The War on Drugs and its invisible collateral damage

Environmental harm and climate change

Authored by: Tammy Ayres

Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology

Print publication date:  May  2020
Online publication date:  April  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138633803
eBook ISBN: 9781315207094
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter focusses on the environmental impact of drug prohibition, in general, and the War on Drugs, more specifically. It investigates the link between drug prohibition, crop eradication, deforestation and environmental damage (e.g., biodiversity loss; pollution of air, soil, water) and public health of Indigenous populations. In so doing, this chapter reveals that much of this harm is disavowed and that official discourse centres on the harm caused by the drugs themselves and their link to organised crime, insurgency and violence, which is used to justify more draconian and harmful drug interdiction strategies. Accordingly, the author argues, drug prohibition and the War on Drugs reflect not concern about the human health consequences of illicit substances, but the prioritisation of the exigencies of capitalism, including its territorial and social expansion, and improved conditions for direct foreign investment and the free-market economy. A key point of the chapter is that prohibition often creates or exacerbates armed conflict and crime (e.g., corruption, organised crime, terrorism, violence), and that the ‘War on Drugs’ has become a ‘War against Certain People’—one which disproportionately affects poor, ethnic minority groups in countries of both the Global South and Global North.

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