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Should drugs be decriminalised?

by Flash Wilson, May 23rd 2002

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There has been a lot of discussion in the media lately about the legalisation or decriminalisation of various illegal drugs. We have seen the photos of dead heroin addict Rachel Whitear, the police in Brixton are trialling a softer line on cannabis use, and drug taking is commonplace in our clubs and festivals.

Here are my opinions based on my own experiences.

Until I left school, I didn't smoke or take illegal drugs, and felt very strongly that I should not do so. I had no personal reason for this; it was just what society had drilled into me. Remember the anti-AIDS campaigns, and the "Just Say No" campaign following Zammo's death from heroin on TV? Those messages hit my generation. Although I did drink, I never took drugs, or wanted to try them.

In my first week at university - in 1994 - I sat with three other new friends, in the largest one of our rooms, and we chatted and drank beer. Someone decided to skin up - a grain of hash hidden in a sliding ruler, a raffia mat, a marlboro light sliced open, some rizlas and part of a tube ticket. He assembled this into a fairly small spliff, which the lads passed round. When it came to me, nothing bad had happened to the others, so I tried it. I took the first drag lightly into my mouth - it wasn't hot, or choking, or unpleasant, so I smoked the rest normally and passed it on. In fact, it was quite enjoyable, especially with a beer or two. We developed a routine - a few beers, a spliff in Richard's room, then off to Skag's kitchen for pot noodle.. munchies!

I wanted to have my own supplies rather than relying on other's goodwill, and one of the lads in hall offered to sell me a 'teenth for a few quid. I made it last a week; he smoked another 'teenth in a pipe while I paid! Still - he was a mate too. He'd been educated in a good public school near my own, and seemed pleasant enough. No sordid or dodgy dealer. No invitation to try something else. Just a lad buying gear by the ounce, then dividing it up and selling it on in a way that covered his costs and allowed him some free gear as a bonus.

I have no issue with cannabis. Almost everyone I know smokes it, some only socially, others chain smoke it in place of plain tobacco. Nobody suffers and nobody says that they think it is bad, or that they'd like to give it up. If you don't have the money for it, you go without, so no one is broke trying to meet the cost. You can always share a friend's. No issue.

In 1999, a friend took me to a goth club, Slimelight. I really felt that I belonged. I had suddenly discovered a scene that would be my home for almost a year - not just at Slimelight but at other bars and clubs in London. However, the clubbing started at 11 and ran on until 7am. People wanted to be awake for it. Apart from anything else, it was a pain to get home in the middle of the night - better to wait for the first tubes of the day. Someone told me that speed set them up for an all nighter, and introduced me to Fod. Fod told me to buy a can of coke, and meet him in the toilets. We pushed past the couples and conversationalists and locked ourselves in the largest cubicle. Fod opened my coke, shook a sachet of speed into it, swilled it round, and handed it back. I drank the coke as normal, but I never fell asleep that night. This was excellent; I hadn't noticed that I was awake, until I thought about the fact that sleep hadn't troubled me.

The pattern for weekends became set - drink beer on a Saturday night, go to Slimelight, take some speed, then on Sunday morning we descended en masse on "the yellow caff" - a Cafe in Angel market - to rehydrate, eat breakfast, and form into smaller groups for the day. We'd go home and sleep, or go to someone's house and sleep, drink soft drinks, maybe dab some more speed to come down more slowly, or maybe have a spliff to help allieviate the shaking.

It was at this point that I realised drugs have a downside. Unlike cannabis, speed has a crashing downer. I would wind up in the yellow caff shaking and unable to speak a whole sentence. All of Sunday would be spent in recovery, sleeping and rehydrating, surrounded by people I barely knew, while I wasn't really myself.

I had reached my limit. Speed alone wasn't a problem - the odd dab with a wet finger, just a little to keep me perked up - but the combination of quite a bit of speed, with partying and dancing for hours, wore me down. I would phone my (then) boyfriend in the early morning, talk for hours, and only afterwards realise it was 5am. Time to start taking it easy - not clubbing every single week, chilling out and rediscovering myself. When I secured a permanent job in August 1999, I stopped taking speed, and have never taken it since. I didn't mind burning the candle when I was temping, but this job was more important than that.

The problem with speed was that, unlike cannabis, you could take too much. With cannabis, you would just fall asleep. With speed, the opposite, until you are a walking, shaking zombie. It won't kill you, but you might get a bit sick. No need to ban this, but it needs careful wording on the instructions.

Like the gay scene, the goth scene (specifically the industrial/ cyber punk scene) is full of people using poppers. As you dance in a circle, they are passed round. I've heard a lot about poppers, and yet I've not tried them; they might loosen you up sexually, they might heighten the effect of other drugs, they might give you a head rush. Someone I trust told me that they lower blood pressure, and as mine is low enough already, and I keel over if the balance is pushed too far, I decided not to try them. Shame. Sounds fun.

This is a tough one. I've never tried it knowingly although I did once take something which was probably cut with it; the effects were unexpected and partly fun, partly freaky.

I see people on E having a great time, and I see some of these people also believing that you want to have sex with them when you clearly don't. I think it's pretty dangerous - not in itself, not in the Leah Betts way, because I don't know of anyone having a bad time on E, but because they aren't people I can trust anymore.

On the other hand, in most cases it isn't causing a problem. To avoid the Leah Betts style issue - either not drinking enough water, or misguidedly drinking too much - we need education. Before you can discuss this openly, there needs to be a forum where people acknowlegdge that they use this. Prohibition does not help here.

I've never tried coke. I've seen others take it. All I can deduce is that it turns them into complete pricks, arrogant and dull. They might be having a great time, but I don't want to be arrogant and dull, so I don't touch it.

I know people who have taken heroin.

None of them are alive any more.

Take one example, of a friend from Somerset. He used to join us for a beer, occasionally deal me some cannabis, and he came up to my birthday party in London and entertained us all. He wasn't a sinewy, lean addict, he was a fat, jovial chap who was well travelled, clever and funny. He told me in passing that he had once been a smack addict, a long time ago.

Several years after we first met, he held a party in a pub to celebrate his birthday. They found him dead in the toilet. It looks like someone had "treated" him to a hit. Maybe he had gone back to the smack, maybe he hadn't but thought he would have a hit again. Maybe you never completely manage to give it up. Anyway, I was shocked that this friendly, together guy had died in his mid twenties, in such a sad and sordid manner. I wasn't nearly as shocked as my best mate, who hadn't realised that he had ever tried hard drugs. Tragic.

I have also worked with someone whose 16 year old son was an addict, and she was utterly frustrated. When he was in prison, at least she knew what he was up to. When he was out, she would come home not knowing which of her possessions would have disappeared. This was a volatile and impossible situation for her, and I have no idea how they are now or how it panned out, as I moved jobs and lost touch with her. However, it was terribly sad to observe.

No problem with cannabis. It's obvious, legalise it! It doesn't lead to harder drugs - they aren't offered - and it hurts no one. Speed, E and the "dance drugs" need watching, it's easy to abuse these. However, the main problem is that the dealer will tell you he has got whatever you want. I've had speed that was cut with something hallucinogenic, and I've had speed that tasted of washing powder. This needs regulating, and that can't happen while it is illegal.

It's easy to go the whole way, and suggest that all drugs should be legalised and regulated so that addicts can be helped and monitored. I - marginally - disagree. Huge numbers of people take dance drugs every week, and very few have problems. By contrast heroin (and to some extent cocaine-based drugs) seem to have a devastating effect on both the user and those around them. I'm sure that heroin feels great, and I'd love to experience a great feeling. However, I think it is so evil - dangerous, at least - that it cannot be regulated. I'm not convinced that a user would settle for his prescription; there would still be an underclass of zombied users who have let go of their houses and jobs, and who would feed on whatever they can get.

We have to keep these truly potent drugs banned - but free recreational users from the risks of the dealers - legalise cannabis, ecstacy and speed, and then move on.

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