Drug Smuggler Nation

Narcotics and the Netherlands, 1920-1995
Manchester University Press, 2021
Date February 2, 2021
Authors Stephen Snelders

Why did the international drug regulatory regime of the twentieth century fail to stop an explosive increase in trade and consumption of illegal drugs? This study investigates the histories of smugglers and criminal entrepreneurs in the Netherlands who succeeded in turning the country into the so-called ‘Colombia of Europe’ or, ‘the international drug supermarket’.

Increasing state regulations and interventions led to the proliferation of a ‘hydra’ of small, anarchic groups and networks ideally suited to circumvent the enforcement of regulation. Networks of smugglers and suppliers of heroin, cocaine, cannabis, XTC, and other drugs were organized without a strict formal hierarchy and based on personal relations and cultural affi nities rather than on institutional arrangements. These networks created a thriving underground industry of illegal synthetic drug laboratories and indoor cannabis cultivation in the Netherlands itself. Their operations were made possible and developed because of the deep historical social and cultural ‘embeddedness’ of criminal anarchy in Dutch society.

Using examples from the rich history of drug smuggling, Drug smuggler nation investigates the deeper and hidden grounds of the illegal drug trade, and its effects on our drug policies.


The book Drug Smuggler Nation was the subject of an episode of the podcast New Books Network (31 March 2021)

Stephen was also interviewed about Drug Smuggler Nation for Points, the blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society (18 May 2021)


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