‘If you remember the 60’s then you weren’t really there’ goes the oft quoted mantra which suggests the majority of the population spent the sixth decade of the 20th century in a hash induced coma. But were the swirling kaleidoscopic mists that seemed to manifest themselves in the fashion, furnishings and Fab Four, a figment of our furtive imagination or did we truly transcend into a trance of a drug induced state of inertia?
Just what happened to alter the liberal view we had on recreational drugs and with the latest changes in UK law, making the African drug Khat illegal, are we becoming too concerned with an industry that will carry on regardless?
There were enormous economic, social and political changes taking place during the 1960’s; much of the world was still emerging from the effects of World War II; advancement of space travel was meteoric; civil rights acts were being passed and with the advent of the Pill, sexual freedom was liberating a generation of youngsters who had previously conformed to an expected code of conduct.
And what better way to cock-a-snook at the establishment than to use something that had been exclusive to a select few of the middle-aged upper class, to transport 60’s youth to a whole new dimension.
The 1926 Rolleston report on morphine and heroin addicts numbered them in their tens but by the 60’s there were 328 known addicts, 40% of them under 35 years old.
The International Committee on Heroin Addiction aka the Brain Committee (named after its Chair Lord Russell Brain) stated the addict should be regarded as a “sick person” and referred to the “heroin epidemic of the 1960’s” that if left unchecked the “disease” would “become a menace to the community”.
The addict should be regarded as a “sick person”
By 1968 Drug Dependence Units (DDU’s) had opened in London to treat and control heroin addiction.
The drug landscape had changed rapidly and irretrievably – Pandora’s Box was well and truly open.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was passed following UN guidance and each drug was categorised with penalties similarly graded. As new drugs are manufactured, the law is updated:
Class A: crack cocaine, ecstasy, heroin
Class B: cannabis, barbiturates, codeine
Class C: anabolic steroids, diazepam, khat*
Class A drugs are considered the most dangerous; however, government changes cause confusion amongst the public and police e.g. in January 2004 cannabis was moved from class B to C but in January 2009 Home Secretary Theresa May defied her advisors and returned the drug to class B.
The penalty depends on which drug you choose and whether you are a user or dealer, supplier or trafficker. The police can issue an on the spot fine of £90 if you are found with cannabis but suppliers can face an unlimited fine and life imprisonment.
The most recent change in the law relates to khat* a multi-million pound industry with several importers creating the £80million/year trade in the UK. One delivery to a Southall warehouse in West London contained 160,000 sticks and there were four deliveries every week from Kenya worth £2million, each stick selling for £3.
It is used widely by the Somali community and there are even ‘khat cafés’ where the young shoots are chewed releasing a juice that contains cathinone, a stimulant similar to cocaine.
Theresa May made it a class C drug on Tuesday 24 June 2014 and those in possession face up to two years in prison, but her actions have caused uproar in Kenya where it is an important source of income to local farmers. However Ms May fears the UK will become an international hub for trafficking the drug as it is illegal in the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States.
But even allowing for legislation and cultural differences, there will always be drug users and drug dealers so just how easy is it to buy illegal highs?
ONLINE DRUG DEALS
In 2014 the Global Drug Survey (GDS) questioned 80,000 drug users and found that whilst the majority used conventional dealers, there is a growing online marketplace.
The largest online black market was ‘Silk Road’ that could only be accessed by special web browser Tor that consists of a number of electronic relays and special URLs making it virtually impossible to trace.
Drug users pay with Bitcoins (the virtual online currency) and the most common purchase is cannabis then MDMA and LSD. Users say they buy online because it is “more reliable and easier than buying on the street … less likely to be contaminated”.
Silk Road was shut down and the founder arrested in October 2013 but it has an offspring, ‘Silk Road 2.0’ that ironically fell victim to cyber-crime when a hacker stole millions of bitcoins in February 2014.
Follow the GDS Drug Highway Code
Recognising the activity will never go away, “simply saying drugs are bad does not engage people” and the fact that the UK is one of the world’s largest drug taking countries, the GDS has now created a drug ‘Highway Code’ to advise on risk reduction.
WILL YOU WON’T YOU?
In 2012 a total of 2,597 people died from drug poisoning. There were 1,754 people killed in road traffic accidents.
So in answer to my opening question “are we becoming too concerned with an industry that will carry on regardless?” Perhaps my question should be “are you dumb enough to do drugs?”.