Thursday, April 9, 2020

Lina Britto's "Marijuana Boom"

Lina Britto is an Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia's First Drug Paradise, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works magic. Located in the middle of chapter three, page 99 restates and elaborates on one of its central arguments:
Although US buyers and urban elites and middle classes were important in the transition from smuggling to cultivation, the source of the marijuana export economy’s dynamism lay with popular sectors available and willing to adapt such a novel business to their own productive and commercial traditions.
Marijuana Boom has in chapter three its vortex. The book is organized in three parts of Ascendance, Peak, and Decline, following the hurricane-like pattern of evolution of the marijuana export business of the 1970s in the Colombian Caribbean coast, which constituted the first illegal drugs economy in the South American country that is until today one of the world’s largest drug producers.

In chapter three, I address a key turning point. That is, the transition from a small-scale marijuana smuggling business—which was part and parcel of traditions of contraband of agricultural commodities, including coffee—into a robust export sector exclusively oriented toward the United States. On page 99, I analyze both oral history and documentary evidence that proves that colonos (settlers) in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain range located near the maritime port of the same name, were the key historical actors in this transition. By showing how they successfully adopted and adapted new varieties of marijuana to the ecosystems where they had previously cultivated coffee, this chapter examines a national historical change on the ground, namely, when the Colombia coffee republic became a narcotics nation.

And with this argument, my book goes against the grain of the academic consensus. For decades, one of the explanations on the causes of the marijuana bonanza of the 1970s asserted that US hippies were the party responsible for launching Colombia’s first drug boom, after they arrived in the region in search of the intoxicant for their own consumption and petty-export commerce. Instead, I demonstrate that although they played an important role, it was the irruption of popular sectors at the level of marijuana cultivation and commercialization that marked the rise of Colombia as principal supplier of drugs to the United States.

By examining both the synergies and connecting interests among those involved in the novel illegal economy, Marijuana Boom demonstrates how Colombia’s first drug paradise became a temporary solution to deep-seated historical problems of access to land, natural resources, markets and credit, fulfilling the promises of capital accumulation, urbanization, and social recognition that modernizing reforms had put forward but failed to advance to the masses.
Learn more about Marijuana Boom at the University of California Press.

--Marshal Zeringue