A ramble on drugs…

By Michael Skywood Clifford.


Imagine a world of utter hedonism: feeling high all the time; coked up, MDMA-ed up; at parties we take Ecstasy and Ketamine; and later we get loaded with booze; and then to cope with the hangovers we take Prosac. We take a weekly concoction of drugs so that we never feel bad, sad or mad.


It sounds pretty horrible to me. Horrible because of all the overdoses and deaths that would result. Horrible because it would make people dependent on something outside of their control – imagine their panic when their 'dependency' supply seized up. And especially horrible because it's unnatural and assumes that the way we are is insufficient in some way. And if we are insufficient to ourselves then I don't think drugs are the answer. Horrible but if you do a bit of extrapolation it seems that society is heading that way.


Why do people take drugs? A friend says that people took drugs in the 60s to try and expand their minds, now people take drugs because the world is so crazy, unethical and irrational, they desire to escape from it.


And who do we give legal drugs to? Drugs are supposed to be for those who are ill. Is everyone ill? Does everyone suffer everyday mental pain? Does our continual 'suffering' require drugs to make life tolerable? Do we give drugs to those we wish to subdue, to those we wish to suppress? Is this why jails are full of drug abuse? The 'chemical cosh' is given to difficult Altzheimer's patients. Dissidents and rebels are often incarcerated in mental hospitals and forced into long courses of mind changing drugs.


It puzzles me as to why young healthy bodies and minds need illegal drugs? Perhaps the young take drugs to avoid their deep fears; after all, the young believe they will live for ever so is it their repressed fear of death, their denied acceptance of the 'human condition', that make the young disposed to take illegal drugs. It's strange that the young – with their minds and bodies at the healthiest point in the human life-death cycle – should need drugs. Such an observation almost implies there is something wrong with the human race.


The nature of drugs would seem to be about maintaining good feelings, about avoiding depressive feelings, about avoiding feeling low, about remaining cheerful, remaining full of energy and drive and motivation, because as we all know, when our morale is low, our tendency to act and perform is greatly reduced. When our feelings are down so is our performance.


The nature of drug-taking is profoundly meshed with the nature of the human mind and human feelings. Drugs seek to alter sensation, emotion, perception and replace unpleasant sensations and feelings with pleasant, even joyous sensations and feelings.


However, as almost everything affects our emotions in some way, it is difficult to define exactly what a drug is. Is the computer a drug? – a regular addiction to the news? – the need to pamper your Yorkshire terrier? – are you addicted to your ipads and iphones? – dependent on your trousers? – are we lost without our two sugars? – our football team? – our caffeine demand? – our make-up? – our vehicles? – our need to go shopping? – addicted to things that essentially keep us from the 'Slough of Despond'?


I suspect (perhaps rather naively on first investigation) that the reason why humans seek mood enhancers – from cups of coffee, Serotonin inhibitors, daily bottles of whiskey, lines of crack cocaine – is because some of us are more aware than others of the tragedy of the structure of life. Whatever we do, life will not bend to our complete will, and we thus can never get out of it alive. And this tragic fact – whatever we do – cannot be changed. Some people are blissfully unaware (or are unconcerned) of this and tend, I suspect, to have moderate drug use, but others are so aware that it stares at them in the mirror and frightens the wits out of them daily.


And where do illegal drugs come from? And who was importing all that marijuana into West in the hippy days of the 60s? And who was supplying all that cocaine coming into the 'Bonfire of Vanities' days of the 80s? And who was making all that money out of Ecstasy and designer drugs in the 90s?


Does the nation state have drug addict guilt on its hands?


Consider the Chinese Opium wars (never taught in the British history school curriculum…) In the early 19th Century, before the wars began, Britain was importing vast amounts of tea and goods from China and was struggling to pay for them, creating a trade imbalance of debt for itself. Uninterested in receiving British goods, the Chinese demanded payment from the British for the trade deficit in silver only. So the British East India Company (which had a monopoly on the poppy fields in India) sold opium to smugglers in the ports of China. Britain used this black economy money to repay the British the trade imbalance with China. Soon the Chinese realised what was happening and banned the opium trade.


The Chinese 'anti-drug' minister, Lin Zexu, wrote to Queen Victoria asking for British to desist from supplying illegal opium. It read: 'Your majesty has not before been thus officially notified and you may plead ignorance of the severity of our laws, but I now give my assurance that we mean to cut this harmful drug forever.'


As a result of this restriction of profitable trading, the British had two wars with China (between 1839-42 and 1856-60). With their advanced naval technology, the British won both wars and took over took over Hong Kong and forced the Chinese to make opium trading legal.


The early chapter of the popularisation of drugs is tied up with herbalism and the early days of pharmacy, but I suggest this history of opium eaters (and smokers) propels the later 20th Century popularisation with drugs. Drugs such as Laudanum gradually found their way into the high streets of Britain during the Nineteenth Century. And eventually this led to all those drugs created by ever-growing drug companies which were prescribed by our doctors and sold by the high street pharmacies of the 1950s which eventually leaked illegally out into the streets. These were given a variety of names and nicknames: dexies, bombers, blues, purple hearts, amphetamines, barbs, uppers, speed, mandies, downers. LSD, ecstasy and MDMA originated from the states and mescaline from Mexico.


So should we ban drugs? Or bring in the tough punishments for those who fall to temptation?


The Misuse of Drugs Act in Singapore, the statute's penal provisions are considered draconian by most nations' standards, providing for long terms of imprisonment, caning, and capital punishment. (Wikipeadia)


Perhaps looking at criminalisation of a alcohol during Prohibition in the United States may give us some historical clues.


Prohibition Congress passed (the Volstead Act) the National Prohibition Act, on October 28th, 1919 and established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor, as well the as the penalties for producing it. However, despite the act prohibiting the sale of alcohol, the federal government did little to enforce it. By 1925, in New York City alone, there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs where illegal alcohol was for sale.


The attempt to prohibit alcohol in America had a history that went back as far as 1657. In May that year, the General Court of Massachusetts made the sale of strong liquor “whether known by the name of rumme, strong water, wine, brandy, etc. illegal.” In 1851, not long before the American Civil War, the manufacture and sale or liquor was banned in Maine, yet it was soon repealed in 1856. In 1881, Kansas was the first state to outlaw alcoholic beverages in its constitution, with Battleaxe Carrie Nation gaining notoriety for enforcing the provision herself by walking into saloons, scolding customers and using her hatchet to destroy bottles of liquor.


In the progressive period (1890 – 1920) hostility to saloons and their political influence became widespread. The Anti-Saloon League superseded the Prohibitionist Party and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union as the most influential advocate of Prohibition by piggybacking other social reform issues such as women's suffrage onto their prohibition platform.


Prohibition was demanded by the 'drys' – primarily protestant denominations: the Methodists, Northern Baptists, Southern Baptists, New School Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Congregationalists, Quakers and Scandinavian Lutherians but also The Woman's Church Federation, The Woman's Temperance Crusade, The Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction. The 'wets' who opposed them were generally the Escopalians, German Lutherians and Roman Catholics.


Much conflict was between the urban largely immigrant working class city and rural church-going country, where the former was 'wet' and the latter was 'dry'. In 1917 the drys' outnumbered the 'wets' in both the Democratic party and Republican Party by 140 to 64 and 138 to 62 respectively. Enforced prohibition began on 17 January 1920.


However, despite the manufacture and sale of alcohol being illegal, neither consumption nor the making up to 200 gallons of wine or cider at home was not. Many people saw prohibition coming and stockpiled wines and liquors before it began. Stores sold bricks of (legal) grape concentrate with a warning label: After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine. This concentrate came in nine varieties: Port, Virginia Dare, Muscatel, Angelica, Tokay, Sauterne, Riesling, Claret and Burgundy.


Class divides opened up over who was able to stockpile alcohol and who was not. 'A rich family could have a cellar full of liquor but if a poor family had a bottle of home-brew there would be trouble'. President Woodrow Wilson moved his own supply of alcoholic beverages to his Washington residence after his term of office ended. Soon afterwards Warren G. Harding moved his beverages into the White House. One man wrote five front page articles for the The Washington Post on how he had supplied illegal alcohol to congress for ten years, revealing how 80% of the congress and the senators drank, even though they were passing 'dry' laws.


Prohibition was repealed in 1933, but Kansas did not legalise alcohol until 1987. Even today there are counties and towns that are 'dry' in the United States and Federal law still prohibits alcohol on Indian Reservations.


Also legal alcohol could be bought from neighbouring countries, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Complaints to the British Government about the policing of the Detroit River, received this retort from Winston Churchill: “Prohibition is an affront to the whole history of mankind,” and he refused to intervene.


Millions of dollars were made by gangsters Al Capone and Bugs Moran in Chacago in the famous and well documented Roaring Twenties from illegal alcohol sales. Capone had control of bootlegging from Chicago to Florida. He was eventually jailed not for bootlegging and racketeering but for tax evasion.


However it seems that the desires of the prohibitionists went badly wrong.


a) The reduction in alcohol consumption was supposed to reduce crime, however it increased by 24% with the bootlegging trade.


b) it deprived the government of potential taxes.


c) Fundamentally, illegal alcohol was completely unregulated for quality. Prohibition made alcohol more dangerous to drink – and especially because the government was actually poisoning it to reduce sales. This had to soon stop because governments couldn't be accused of killing their own citizens.


Would the decriminalisation of drugs be beneficial to us now? Presumably we would get similar results as were listed above.


a) The reduction of drug crime and gangs.


b) Drug manufacture and selling would be regulated with high standards of quality.


c) Tax expenditure would be saved on drug-policing.


e) Taxation could be raised on legal consumption of drugs.


f) The strength of drugs for sale could be kept to a minimum.


To legalise or criminalise vice is the ultimate dilemma, and applies to all social evils: alcohol, drugs, prostitution, abortion.


To legalise and regulate sounds a good idea. But there are many problems. 


There are many illegal drugs. To legalise marijuana does not allow, say ecstasy or crack cocaine etc. etc.


And regulation is expensive and the current trend these days is that the tax payers evade paying taxes yet still demand good control and regulation of prostitution, abortion and drugs. If we want to play we have to pay.


And more disturbingly, legalisation would bring manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors of drugs into the high street and into the main track culture of Britain. Companies would then be able to advertise drugs on the media. It would have the negative effect of presenting 'drugs' opportunities to people or all ages who had never considered using before. And as soon as 'spaced-out' marijuana drug dens appear on the high street, sanitised Amsterdam-style coffee shops, then who knows what else they sell. If you license the selling of dope in a certain retailer, what else you can get there? As soon as you have an opium den, don't prostitution and crime follow on?


Aren't Amsterdam now trying to stop their legalisation of drugs? In fact, Amsterdam never decriminalised drugs, they just took a blind eye policy to well-run, moderately-stocked coffee bars that sell marijuana, which is being reconsidered as I write.


Figures are good for comparisons of usage. In the Netherlands 9.5% of young adults (aged 15–34) consume soft drugs once a month, comparable to the level of Finland (8%), Latvia (9,7%) and Norway (9.6%) and less than in the UK (13.8%), Germany (11,9%), Czech Republic (19,3%), Denmark (13,3%), Spain (18.8%), France (16,7%), Slovakia (14,7%) and Italy (20,9%) but higher than in Bulgaria (4,4%), Sweden (4,8%), Poland (5,3%) or Greece (3,2%). The monthly prevalence of drugs other than cannabis among young people (15-24) was 4% in 2004, that was above the average (3%) of 15 compared countries in EU. However, seemingly few transcend to becoming problem drug users (0.30%), well below the average (0.52%) of the same compared countries.


The reported number of deaths linked to the use of drugs in the Netherlands, as a proportion of the entire population, is together with Poland, France, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic the lowest of the EU. The Dutch government is able to support approximately 90% of help-seeking addicts with detoxification programs. Treatment demand is rising.


So what is happening now? As we have seen drugs are commodities of high profit. They are also commodities of weaponry that are used in war. NATO own the poppy fields of Asia. So what are they doing with these crops? Have they been destroyed? Don't hold your breath…

Modern life, Religious and philosophical

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