ITCHYCOO PARK – The War On Drugs And How To Win It
Picture the scene. It’s 2.30 in the morning in a wild natural park. Jesmond Dene in Newcastle upon Tyne if you happen to be familiar with it. Substitute any wild natural park if you are not. A group of young people are creeping cautiously along one of its many paths and occasionally diving into the undergrowth when a noise startles them.
It’s a summer night, the Summer Solstice in fact, and the young people are looking for witches. The situation has the edgy paranoia and spooky vibrations of a Scooby Doo cartoon, except that the numbers are wrong. There are four guys and one girl, a rather pretty girl as it happens. Definitely a Daphne rather than a Velma. There is no talking Great Dane. But here’s the thing. At any moment there absolutely could be. This is because our young heroes are twisted off their tiny gourds on drugs. Powerful ones.
In fact, if memory serves me correctly, the intrepid witch hunters were dosed up on a combination of LSD and Nepalese Royal Temple Ball. There may have been some tequila and bronchitis medicine thrown into the mix for shits and giggles. As you have probably already guessed, I was one of the jittery park explorers in question. It was 1992. A lifetime and a clutch of good and bad experiences ago.
Any similarity to Scooby Doo ends with a brief inspection of the pockets of the young people’s long, “Withnail and I” style coats. They are armed to the teeth. No guns or anything but knives, throwing stars and nunchucks. The justification for this was given by me before we set out. I insisted we should go tooled up because, and I said this without a speck of irony, “You can run into some really dodgy people in Jesmond Dene at that time of the morning.” We all laughed a little nervously about that by time we finally straightened up. But we never walked around that park after dark again.
Irony is the thing that the authorities fighting the War on Drugs need to grasp. And not just because they are sober pillars of society clearly losing that war against a pack of junkies who are for the most part entirely oblivious to the fact there’s a war on in the first place. No, the obvious irony is that the War On Drugs only exists in the first place because all the fun drugs are illegal.
Back in Victorian times, and in fact up to the 1920’s, if you could afford to buy a drug from the chemist shop, you could buy it. And you could afford it because they weren’t illegal and hence quite cheap. Heroin was a trade name and could be bought in pill form for toothache and as a syrup for tickly coughs. The only expensive thing about using it for recreational purposes was the purchase of a syringe kit.
During the First World War, Fortnum and Mason (grocer to The Crown) sold “Pick-Me-Up” kits to send to the troops. They were basically a nicely packaged precursor to Hunter S Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas” medicine bag. Uppers, downers, laughers, screamers. The whole kit and caboodle.
And were the streets of Britain filled with junkies? Any more than there are today? Well of course they were. The point is that they were junkies who could walk into a shop and buy their fix for the price of a couple of packs of Woodbines. Junkies who, to paraphrase Bill Hicks, didn’t rob anybody, didn’t rape anybody, didn’t murder anybody. Just laughed their asses off and went about their day.
Granted, this situation was largely down to the largesse of the of the biggest drug dealer in the history of the world : The British Empire. Oh, your crack cocaine cartel has got you a mansion, a helicopter and a fleet of Ferraris has it? Well done. We got Hong Kong. And a quarter of the Earth’s surface. Though a lot of that was down to unscrupulous monopolies on tea, pepper and spices.
Up until the 1960’s, heroin addicts were just prescribed medicinal grade heroin by their doctors, partly because society saw them as genuinely ill back then. But mostly because it’s a lot cheaper for the state to give addicts free heroin than to lock them up for all the stealing they have to do to get their drugs by other means. It costs £47,000 pounds to keep someone in prison for a year on a robbery charge. The NHS can buy an awful lot of medicinal smack for that. It’s just simple economics.
Aleister Crowley (it’s pronounced Kroh-Lee by the way, not Krau-Lee) famously said that the only things he left Cambridge University with were “a Blue in Rowing, a penchant for buggery and a lifelong heroin addiction”. He was 72 when he died, and even then it was the gin that did for him, not the smack. Why? He could afford uncut heroin.
Bruce Lee didn’t smoke or drink but he did eat a tiny hash cookie with some milk before retiring and it didn’t do him any harm. Yeah, yeah, he died when he was 30, but it was a freak reaction to a prescription painkiller that did him in. That or The Triads.
Drugs are not evil. Unpredictable yes, but so is the weather and no one accuses that of being evil. Most of the time anyway. The same knife can be used to peel a delicious apple or to stab someone in the heart. It’s a matter of intentions and context.
People are always going to do stupid things to themselves in the name of fun. No amount of legislation is ever going to change that. So, the way I see it, there’s two options to win the war on drugs. Just legalize the lot, collect the tax revenues and chuck all the money on top of the pile you’ve saved by not imprisoning junkies.
Or, alternatively, go the other way. Ban all drugs that are in some way bad for you. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, the lot. Turn your country into an annexe of Utah. Either way would be better than the wishy washy compromise we have now. Any plan to wage war on drugs that involves the druggies winning hands down can’t be the right way to go.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013