Through the bleary-eyed blinkers of Friday night fun, it’s easy to forget where your drugs come from.
A bag of white powder, a purple crystal, a blue pill, these symbols don’t look like what they represent.
Just as a supermarket chicken breast doesn’t tell the full story of factory farming, neither does that bag of powder tell the full story of the drug trade.
It’s easy to see why people kid themselves into thinking their drug taking is harmless from a sociological perspective.
After all, if we thought about what went into that bag of white powder, or that sticky green, perhaps it wouldn’t be escapism after all. And, who wants realism on a Friday night after a shit week at work?
For a long time we’ve been told that addiction is the main problem with drugs, and that addicts are the criminals in the drug industry.
But, if only 23 per cent of UK drug users use substances every day, or are for want of a better term, addicts, shouldn’t the burden of the responsibility fall to the other 75 per cent? Isn’t it about time recreational users got their share of the blame?
Drug addictions are just like any other addiction
When I was a kid I remember my mum, said to me: “Once you take cocaine you’re addicted. That’s it, life over.”
This made sense to me as an inexperienced child, however during my teens and early twenties, I tried everything under the sun.
But it was recreational, I never did them a lot, and though I’ll openly admit that I’m an addict, I’m not a drug addict.
My addiction was that of binging and purging. I shot down to 50kg, then up to 86kg in a matter of months, then back and forth, and back and forth.
I couldn’t keep a lid on what I was doing (pun intended), or why I was doing it. But I always blamed bulimia, for bulimia – I believed it was the cause and effect, just as my mum had said.
Once I did finally ‘conquer’ bulimia, people would congratulate me for getting over it, and they still do.
Now I drink too much, more often than I should – I’ve moved from one addictive behaviour to another.
But, my socially acceptable addictions mean I’ve not been locked up and I’m not deemed ‘a dreg’. I was just someone that needed help, and I guess I still am.
But why can’t the same be said for heroin addicts?
Who gets the blame?
If addiction is an issue with the person, not the drug – and these people need psychological help – how is socially alienating them or imprisoning them going to do anything to solve the problem?
If we’re creating environments where the only way for addicts to get their drug, is through illegal means, then we are creating criminals out of the most vulnerable in society.
On top of that, we’re forcing them to be part of an industry that causes destruction and death wherever it casts its shadow.
A brief history of getting high
Most drugs have only been illegal in the UK for about a century.
And even though many were made illegal in 1916 – and even more in 1920 – doctors in the UK could still prescribe marijuana, cocaine, and even heroin for decades after.
However, as America’s so called ‘War on Drugs’ built up pace, Britain eventually got involved during the Swinging Sixties.
Up until this point, the UK had addressed the drug issue as a health concern – not a sin – allowing doctors the right to prescribe pharmaceutical grade drugs to addicts and others in need of them.
It was believed this matter was one for the medical professionals, and not the police.
Who created the bogey man?
When something that’s sought after is illegal, it’s high value. And, when something high value is left in the charge of people with little moral value, that bag of powder gets covered with the blood of innocents.
Terrorism, child slavery, abduction, rape, prostitution, murder, corrupt governments, fake wars – these are all direct byproducts of the War on Drugs. It has created the criminals they’re supposed to be trying to catch.
Whether it’s the heroin funding terrorism in the Middle-East, cocaine fuelling corrupt governments and private armies in South America or a bit of bud which fuels the local crime syndicate in your town, the problem wouldn’t exist without the criminality.
But, that doesn’t mean that recreational users are not responsible, as whatever you buy, somewhere along the line, a criminal is making money out of the fact that drugs are illegal, and therefore profitable.
By placing your money in the hands of the dealer, you’re making a vote. You’re choosing to be a part of the problem, you’re choosing to give your money to terrorists, war criminals and murderers.
Cocaine: Britain’s favourite drug
Cocaine is a synthesised version of the Coca plant, native to the jungles of South America, that has been used for centuries by local tribes.
Now, however, cocaine is probably the most deadly commodity crop on the planet.
To become that bag of white powder coca must be farmed, synthesised, transported through jungles, across oceans and, of course, borders – usually by people who have no other option.
This makes them as much a victim of the realities of the drug trade as the addicts. They’re the ones whose lives are on the line. They’re the ones who get murdered.
As Mike Pottenger says in his book, The True Cost of Cocaine:
If we’re a society that worries about eating free range chicken, drinking fair trade coffee and buying shoes and jeans that were not put together by sweatshop labour, well, we’d better worry about the real cost of cocaine, too.
In a 2005 article in The Guardian, Anthony Barnett states that in 2002, 28,000 people died as a direct result of the cocaine trade in Colombia alone.
That’s 70 people a day, and that’s not taking into account any other South American country, any of the supply lanes through the Americas or Europe, or the gangs on the streets.
And why? So, you and I can stick a key up our noses at 4am in some piss stinking toilet? Is that really worth it?
As Barnett says in the close of his article:
Alfonso’s boat speeds off, leaving a white trail. Five thousand miles away, someone in Britain is snorting cocaine. And someone in Colombia is being murdered.
Which, to be honest, kind of ruins the vibe.
It’s them, not us
It’s easy to be ignorant in this world, and we’re all guilty of it to some degree.
We know, for example, that the mass meat industry causes deforestation, global warming and unnecessary mental and physical strain on animals. Most people see a chicken breast but not the chicken and just as that chicken breast doesn’t tell the full story, neither does that bag of white powder.
In the hazy light of Sunday morning when cocaine-fuelled conversation hits its peak, this disconnect reaches its climax.
We discuss the evil side of capitalism, the corporate slave trade, the environmental effects of deforestation, and war. But the ‘hypocrisy alarm bells’ haven’t registered.
How can a group of educated, well-informed individuals make such a disconnect? How is it that we can talk about the townspeople who lived by concentration camps, and ask how they stayed quiet without spotting the obvious hypocrisy?
If we can shut out the fact that drugs are stained with blood, is it too farfetched to see how someone could stay quiet with the stench of burned bodies in the air?
And wouldn’t the children in the jungles of Peru, who pick, extract and sell Coca leaves for peanuts under the threat of death, be thinking the same?
Or the mothers of trafficked daughters in Mexico, lost to the drug cartels forever, found dead through fear of worse.
Wouldn’t they be thinking: “Do they (us) just not care?”
But, though the War on Drugs – and the illegality it brings – may be the cause of the criminal element of the drug world, without demand there is no supply.
If we continue to purchase blindly, we buy into the massacre, the corruption and the death. We are by our own compliance, comrades to war criminals.
So, what’s the plan?
We need to start bringing drugs back into our society.
If we can promote public policy to help, not vilify addicts, we can make a better world for those in pain. Surely we need to recognise that though drugs aren’t exactly safe, they’re far safer in the hands of experts.
Overdose would certainly decrease if hard drugs were administered to addicts by doctors in safe spaces, with clean equipment. If we brought addiction in line with other public health concerns, such as the wider mental health push, we would be condemning less people to the streets, to HIV, and to a slow, untimely demise.
Secondly, it’s about time that the War on Drugs came to an end. Nearly a century old, it has achieved nothing but death and corruption and has merely lined the pockets of cartels, corrupt governments and criminals.
By bringing drugs back into the mainstream, we could go a long way to removing the dealer from both the streets and the jungles.
We need to legalise not just possession, but the supply chain too. We need to liaise with cocaine and heroin producing countries and arm them not with weapons, but with trade agreements. We need to demand that blanket bans which do nothing to kerb the real ills of the drug trade, be stopped.
What is more, we must also accept the consequences of our own actions – it’s not enough to just say: “It’s not my problem.” We must accept that with the freedom of experience, comes the burden of responsibility.
If you want the choice to take drugs, you must also demand the freedom of life for those who are part of the supply chain.
In the words of Bob, ‘Stand up for your right’, and most importantly, stand up for theirs too.