Drug smuggler nation

Narcotics and the Netherlands, 1920-1995

By Stephen Snelders

Drug smuggler nation


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5139-1
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: February 2021
  • BIC Category: Humanities / 20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000, Netherlands, Drugs Trade / Drug Trafficking, HISTORY / Europe / Western, HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Security (National & International), History & Archaeology, History, Modern History


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 affinities 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.


'Describing the development of covert networks is among the most daunting of social science projects. Like official corruption and espionage, organized crime prospers by remaining hidden. Snelders (Utrecht Univ.) successfully lifts the veil of secrecy, offering a convincing account of the evolution of drug smuggling in the 20th-century Netherlands. Combining materials drawn from official law enforcement statistics, crime news coverage, and academic journal articles, Snelders exposes drug smuggling in a new light. Rather than describe the handful of large-scale, highly integrated smuggling enterprises directed by criminal masterminds as often portrayed in works of popular culture, Snelders unveils an anarchic universe of small entrepreneurial enterprises connected through shared workplaces and/or culture. Overall, what Snelders strongly suggests is the virtual impossibility of finally suppressing drug smuggling.
Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.'
CHOICE (May 2022)

'This thickly researched well-written book should be of great interest to historians, criminologists, and legal scholars alike. Frankly, I found little to argue with in this excellent book, which is a strong contribution to the intrinsically challenging and relatively new genre of smuggling history. In short, Drug Smuggler Nation is a deeply researched book that almost defines its place as interdisciplinary criminological history.'
Paul Gootenberg, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books (March 2022)

'All in all, there are very few improvements that one could suggest for Snelders' superb study.'
Peder Clark, European Review of History (May 2022)


1 Introduction: the drug regulatory regime vs. criminal anarchy
2 The interwar period
3 Global perils I: Chinese and Greek drug smugglers
4 Cannabis, counterculture, and criminals: The rise of cannabis smuggling
5 Global perils II: Chinese triads, Turkish families, and heroin
6 The expansion of the cannabis trade after 1976
7 Global perils III: Colombian syndicates and cocaine
8 The floodgates of criminal anarchy: Synthetic drugs and subverting the state
9 Conclusion

Appendix: Graphs of arrests and seizures



Stephen Snelders is a Research Fellow in the Freudenthal Institute at Utrecht University

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