Prior to 1914, few governments regulated narcotics, and many modern controlled substances were readily available to much of the world’s population. For a time, cocaine was a readily accepted ingredient in both soft drinks and children’s cough suppressants. Sigmund Freud lobbied for its use as though he had a significant financial stake in the global cocaine distribution networks. Manufacturers marketed opium and its derivative substances to women. Addiction issues soon surfaced and public health officials slowly came around to the necessity of narcotic control and regulation.
The US participated in the Hague Opium Convention of 1912 (sounds like a pro-heroin trade show, right?) to encourage states to oversee the trade and manufacture of heroin, cocaine, morphine. Although the effort originally flopped, the Allied Powers demanded its enforcement in the treaties that ended World War I. Congrats, League of Nations, you now oversee the international narcotics trade forever! (Stay tuned for developments on that…)
Post-WWI, the Swiss, German, and Japanese pharma firms ensured consumers across Europe, China, the US, and Egypt had all the supply they could ever wish to demand. The Roaring 20’s, awash in recreational cocaine and heroin, led to greater government controls to prevent diversion from “legit” use.
Two League of Nations efforts to limit narcotic production to only “legitimate” medical and scientific use (still talking about cocaine, right?) laid the foundation for an international prohibitionist philosophy and created the requisite legal framework to regulate global supplies from legitimate manufacturers. As you might have guessed, this created a global black market. Smugglers manipulated relatively lax drug diversion laws in one nation to supply the recreational markets in another.
That’s where Vienna comes into play. During the Roaring 20’s, the capital in Lower Austria became known as an “El Dorado” for drug traffickers. It’s proximity to the Balkans, Russia, Europe, and the Mediterranean made it prime real estate, and the government’s lack of concern about recreational narcotics meant any drug trafficker worth his dope operated there. Without sanction against large-scale trafficking, such men weren’t even considered criminals and didn’t bother concealing their efforts inside the country.
In 1923, Johannes Schober, the police president and former chancellor of Austria, called for an international police congress to fight international crime. This created the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), which primarily included police representatives from across Europe. The ICPC’s efforts to encourage effective control legislation largely failed until 1930. A League of Nations international narcotics committee met in Geneva that year and asked the ICPC to provide a delegate. Bruno Schultz, a Viennese cop, repped the ICPC’s cause for the next eight years, during which time regulation of legitimate narcotics encouraged traffickers to open large-scale manufacturing facilities in East Asia and SE Europe. In 1936, Schultz and the ICPC succeeded in the drafting and adoption of international policing policies aimed at criminalizing illicit drug sales and trafficking. This demonstrated a shift in control philosophy from public health and regulation to criminal statutes focused on public order.
As you likely guessed, the US had consistently advocated prohibitionist drug agendas. Speaking of Prohibition, I could use a drink. This is the point in our timeline where we pour some out for our homies at the failed League of Nations.
During WWII, the ICPC was absorbed into the German police forces and, in 1946, relocated to France and purged of its Austro-German background. In 1956, the ICPC changed its name to Interpol, which today acts primarily as a liaison and intelligence agency for law enforcement groups in its member nations.
After WWII, the United Nations picked up the drug fight and passed significant treaties in 1961 and 1988. It opened the Office on Drugs and Crime and headquartered it in none other than “El Dorado.” Vienna again held center stage in global efforts to combat illicit narcotics trafficking.
While many nation-states and international organizations continue to promote a prohibitionist control model, Austria has maintained a course that focuses on medical treatment for users and criminalization for illicit sales and trafficking. Its current internal narcotics struggles reportedly stem primarily from domestic dealers, rather than international trafficking organizations. The recurring and ongoing refugee crises have hampered historical overland drug routes into Austria from the Balkans (meth, heroin), but Vienna International Airport is alleged to remain a significant source of Netherlands cannabis and South American cocaine.
Along with additional open source articles, “Drug Dealing Culture in Vienna” (Petruccelli, David; Postdoctoral Fellow at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna), contributed heavily to this summary.