If you or I didn’t like using drugs, and those in power didn’t fear the effects of them, then there wouldn’t be a drug problem. I’ll admit – we’ve always had an issue with drugs. But humans have always wanted a drug. We’ve always sought out those foods, drinks and substances that have a stimulating or euphoriant effect. But we also love drugs because we fear them. They offer risk, excitement and novelty.
But what is a drug? Presumably, it’s just a changing definition, a changing perception? Alcohol was once an illegal drug (well, in the US at least – the UK tried to prohibit gin – started a riot!). In 2004 Cannabis was downgraded from Class B to Class C – what happens if it goes further and falls out of the classification system altogether? M-CAT, or Meow Meow, used to be completely legal, only for it to be declared a Class B drug in 2010. (People then decided that if they were now going to be breaking the law to get drugs – perhaps cocaine or ecstasy would be better than plant fertiliser…?)
Drugs, though, tend to be psychoactive substances that are illegal – you know, coffee, tobacco, and alcohol cocaine, heroin and MDMA. Psychoactive substances affect mood, thought processes and perception. Governments decide what a drug is – but we don’t really know how. Take coca and tobacco: both are stimulants, both are addictive and both can have adverse effects on your body. However, their different legal status’ means that tobacco is a highly taxed legal product that contributes a significant amount of revenue to HM Treasury, whereas cocaine users and suppliers get the cuffs. We started this international prohibition – along with the Yanks and the French – and we did what we did best: “It’s our way or the highway.” Substances where we had an economic interest (think alcohol and tobacco), sure, they can stay, but ‘foreign’ drugs (your opiates, coca, and hashish) – outlawed! Imagine if China and India were as powerful then as they are today – our drugs ‘menu’ may have looked very different…
My mum hates talking to me about why drugs are illegal. I think it reminds her of when she used to talk to me about Christianity once I had gotten to that age where I had read enough books and established my own thoughts that I was able to deconstruct it as fiction (don’t get me wrong – I’d love to believe in a God). The same thing happens with drugs. My mum’s general view is “drugs are bad…because they’re illegal…because the government says so.” It only takes a couple of back and forths for her to be a bit stumped. But, to be fair, my Mum isn’t alone. Lots of people take this view – and the view becomes further engrained as a result of right wing media. Drugs are married up with the image of the addict living in impoverished conditions, a burden on the welfare state. Only recently has the media picked up on quite how recreational – and downright normal – drug use is. I went to the Prince of Wales in Brixton last weekend and it seemed the whole of Notts Uni 3rd year turned up on the terrace. You looked around thinking, “You’re a lawyer… you’re an investment banker… you’re working at a top ad agency” – all absolutely on it. It was so pervasive that when one of my friends joined later he high-fived me on learning that, like him, I wasn’t on anything.
So we should all do copious amounts of drugs, right? They’re fantastic. Let’s live life like it’s fucking 1963 – wearing our tie-dye t-shirts whilst strolling through Haight-Ashbury. Well, no – there are downsides (obviously). Addiction. It’s not a myth, it is very real. It’s that invisible line that divides the recreational user down at Bussey Building on a Friday night, from the compulsive user, sat in their sleeping bag on the pavement by the entrance looking at you for 60p to deposit into their empty McDonald’s cup (you’re not sure if he’s looking at you or your mate as he’s taken so much crack he’s cross-eyed). The addict no longer controls his drug use – he is controlled by his drug. Tolerance builds up and larger and larger doses are required for the same effect, with the ultimate effect on the body spiralling out of control. For the staunchest prohibitionists – addiction is where all users will end up. This belief of the destructive effect of drugs on the body gives rise to cries for “something to be done!”. If individuals cannot control their drug use, authorities must step in to do so. This way of thinking is what informs drug policy in this country.
But I believe that the majority of drug problems arise from their prohibition, rather than the drugs themselves. Prohibition provides incentives for complex, organised crime networks, which in turn launder money and use violence – all those things we associate with the criminal underworld. Prohibition leads to corrupt government and law enforcement officials. It leads to the displacement of people and environmental damage to the land where they used to dwell. It leads to health problems within users due to unexpected strength, uncertain quality and unsanitary user equipment.
Yes, I’m for the legalisation of drugs (so’s my Dad – just don’t tell my Mum), but I’m not telling you to go out and use them. Matter of fact, if you wanted to use drugs, you probably already have. Their legalisation won’t change that.
Alcohol is a drug, Ecstacy is a drug. Take both in excess and you’ll be that guy that people look at and think: “he can’t handle his [x]”.
Written by Ell Leppard – very tall, great lid.