Theses Doctoral

High in the City: A History of Drug Use in Mexico City, 1960-1980

Beckhart Coppinger, Sarah Elizabeth

This project analyzes drug use in Mexico City between 1960 and 1980, the decades when the Mexican state began criminalizing common drugs like marijuana, and prosecuting the consumers of legal drugs such as toxic inhalants. In order to explain this contradiction, this dissertation assesses more than 3,000 Juvenile Court records, police files, health department and hospital documents, journal articles, drug legislation, and personal anecdotes. It argues that consumption and prosecution trends largely corresponded to socioeconomic class. Furthermore, these class-based consumption trends affected Mexican drug policies. According to the Mexican health department and penal reports examined in this dissertation, the Mexican state responded to the rise in drug use by pushing legislation to further criminalize marijuana.

Yet the inner workings of that legislation tell a different story. Police records and Juvenile Court cases expose a rise in the detention and arrest of children who consumed toxic inhalants, a legal substance. The Mexican state found it more difficult to punish the children of middle-class government employees and professionals than the poor. In criminalizing poor, young drug users, the government could demonstrate its active efforts to address rising drug use. Consequently, the state created a new criminal class out of lower-class children who inhaled toxic legal substances in Mexico City. From a criminal and health perspective, this dissertation emphasizes the need to consider the impact of Mexican drug use trends on drug policy from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for BeckhartCoppinger_columbia_0054D_16212.pdf BeckhartCoppinger_columbia_0054D_16212.pdf application/pdf 7.02 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Piccato, Pablo A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 22, 2020