Dress Down Friday

A Fable

Cocaine is a nice drug in many ways. To nick Harry Hill’s line, it is very “moreish”. It makes you think that you’re tremendously important, which is a nice thing if you generally feel just that little bit crushed by life. It also makes you rather brave, and somewhat self-centred. It also makes you feel quite sexy, although – at least if you’re a man – it makes sex difficult. Given that its pretty emotionally addictive, a fair number of occasional users end up adopting a lifestyle which, at least to some extent, is centred around taking the drug. As it is a social drug, people who use coke tend to stick together. Most of my friends take it, and usually have a little bit on them to share.

And, so it seems, the level of use of cocaine is much higher than has generally been estimated. If the tests that were carried out in the River Po in Italy, – which suggest that 3% of young Italians in the catchment area are taking a daily dose of 100 milligrams of cocaine – were carried out on London’s sewage, I wonder what we would discover? Some of us would be pretty shocked.

Cocaine’s illegality has pushed up its price, and put its production and distribution in the hands of people who are, by definition and inclination, criminals: usually violent and unscrupulous ones. Drug money has corrupted and destroyed both the economies and political systems of the South American countries which produce cocaine. It has also become a source of finance for terrorism.

One solution that is frequently urged is the legalisation of cocaine production and distribution. Certainly, were it legalised, its price would fall and its availability would rise. There is a danger that such a situation would lead to widespread psychological addiction and the embedding of cocaine within public culture. Drug barons, who have unofficially run large regions in many South American countries, might simply take over officially. But that would not necessarily or inevitably be the effect of legalisation.

In any case, look around you. If I go into pretty much any bar toilet in the West End of London and run my finger over the cistern, it will come up dusted white. Criminalisation may keep some people off coke, but as a strategy it is doomed to failure. Likewise, public “just say no” campaigns seem only to have added to the mystique of the substance. As a culture, we’re not that respectful of authority.

Part, at least, of coke’s attraction is its counter-cultural image. But most people don’t want to be rebels. You can make more money selling a lot of people a little bit of cheap coke than you can selling a few people a lot of expensive coke. Furthermore, although the coke economy is run by violent and unscrupulous people – who will no doubt continue to be thugs and murderers – were they to operate openly, they would at least be more susceptible the ordinary pressures which govern the sale of any other commodity. People are dying of heart attacks, following a failure to point out the risks of overuse? Expect a class action against Cocaine Inc..

Recently, quite a lot of my friends have stopped taking coke. Although the drug is nice, its not really that nice. They’re bored with it. They don’t like the comedowns, they don’t like the way people they know act when they’re coked up; they just enjoy talking to people at parties who are straight, when they themselves are straight. Deep down, who really wants to be a jabbering sniffing twat?

Legalisation and normalisation of the cocaine trade is a start, but it isn’t enough. It is a deep change in our culture which will ultimately put a stop to widespread cocaine use.

Do you see what I’m getting at here?