Archive for April, 2013

Smacktastic Britain

Monday, April 15th, 2013

A report today indicates a record opium crop in Afghanistan this year. The farming of poppies is seeing a resurgence, particularly in areas where violence is rife and agricultural aid is sparse. It seems that large-scale producers will not only provide all the necessary ingredients, but also pay in advance. This is in addition to reports that cannabis cultivation is also seeing a dramatic rise in the country.

And who can blame them. In a country where Western interventions have caused political instability and war, why would anyone, including the UN who are tasked to monitor and reduce drug production in the country, expect the Afghani people to give a toss about what rich white people on the other side of the world choose to spend their money on? I see no lack of morality in the trade myself – they are producing a crop to meet a demand, they are earning a decent living for them and their families, in circumstances most of us can’t even imagine. The fact that other people may then choose, under their own free will, to use that crop in way a manner which may be harmful to themselves, is no concern of the farmers.

Yet the War On Drugs prohibits it, and no doubt Afghanistan will come under further fire for failing to control its most lucrative exports.

Now this year’s bumper crop, partly due to poor weather for two previous years, partly due to more farmers choosing this crop above less well-paid alternatives, is coming at a time when, as a country, we probably need it most. Britian’s poorest are being targeted by benefit cuts and room taxes; budgets for social and health care are being reduced; politicians are diverting our eyes from their significant fuck-ups and self-serving financial scams by blaming the state of the country’s finances on the poor by likening them all to Mick Philpott; the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s policies still resonating across the country following her death, the anger no less fierce than the day she lost power. It does not surprise me that there were two incidents of football violence at prominent matches over the weekend – I think the current feelings of distrust and unfairness are rising in much the same as they did in the 80s.

And, in the 80s, at a time where everyone but those at the top of the social strata battled against the system and lost, and feelings of disempowerment and displacement engulfed the country, which market flourished? Here’s a clue – it blocks out physical and emotional pain, it provides a sense of social identity, and maintaining its demands is equivalent to a full-time job. That’s right guys, strap in – heroin’s sure to make a come-back!

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Cannabis hits the mainstream – and my nan

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Cannabis, which for so many years has had the public popularity of genital warts, seems to be getting an image revamp. Gone are the days where cannabis was perceived as ‘the devil’s harvest’, inspiring ‘weird orgies, wild parties, unleashed passions’ (I’m pretty sure whoever wrote that had never been to an oxymoronic ‘cannabis party’ – ‘no sex, just Play Station and Kitkats’ would seem more realistic). I haven’t heard cannabis referred to as a ‘gateway drug’ for months, and even the hysterical psychosis argument seems to have calmed itself down a bit these days.

Despite this, I was still taken aback when faced with the bare fact that Coronation Street are running a plot-line where a pensioner smokes cannabis to help her symptoms of arthritis. I feel a bit protective of my grandma – pensioners smoking drugs, it will blow her mind! Although to be fair, she’ll probably just say “I’m not watching that, it’s gone silly again” and boycott it for a week. She’s 96 – the woman knows what she likes and doesn’t tolerate what she doesn’t. And maybe I should give my nan some credit – having lived for almost a hundred years, there isn’t much that shocks her these days.

It did make me think though – this plot line is being delivered to about as mainstream an audience as I can imagine. I don’t watch soaps (what with having a life and all) and so am probably not in the best place to judge. But my perceptions of people who watch Corrie are generally the older person who harks back to a time when people could afford to socialise at the local pub.

My grandma, for example, whose staple weekly viewing is Corrie, Emmerdale (when it’s not being silly), Strictly Come Dancing, and Songs of Praise. I would consider those prime-time banalities to be aimed at a pretty conservative audience (with a tolerance for covert social control). And yet it appears that, on Corrie, the illicit drug cannabis is being portrayed in a positive light. Is this not a clash of cultures?

I question myself for being so shocked by this. The world is a different place now, people are more tolerant. In Hyde Park this weekend, a pro-cannabis protest, where large numbers of cannabis users met to smoke in public, resulted in just two arrests, and bystanders commented that the small number of Police in attendance turned a blind eye to the majority of the drug use. Possibly more profoundly, even The Mail Online seemed to take a balanced perspective on the story, sub-heading their article ‘Protesters argue alcohol and tobacco cause far more damage to society than cannabis’ instead of the more predictable ‘Marajuana turns woman into reptile’ or ‘Potheads eat baby after emptying vending machine in drugged-up munch rage’.

Even in certain states of America (not a country I strongly associate with tolerance or liberal thinking), cannabis has been either decriminalised or legalised. Which makes me question myself and wonder if it’s just me that’s out of touch with the world’s changes. Maybe I’m the throw-back to a time when I considered myself, with my drugland associations, to be on the fringes, and now, without realising it, I’m actually completely mainstream.

I’m going to try not to slip into an existentialist crisis just yet though. I’m saving that for when Nan tells me to roll her a fat one.

Queen’s head no longer required by crack dealers

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, my sister sent me an article on Silk Road. It has taken me until now to take the time to read it, because I thought I knew about Silk Road. It’s an online drug marketplace, much like ebay, where drugs change hands for money anonymously. “I’ve known about this for ages”, I thought to myself. “What can The Guardian teach moi about drugs?”

Far from reassuring me of my elevated status, my eyes have been opened. Admittedly not about drugs (see Guardian, I’m still your best bet for a drugs correspondent), but about the seemingly radical left-wing movement which Silk Road appears to be a part of.

It seems that The War On The War On Drugs is inextricably linked with The War On Bankers. A group of young, homeless people in Central London are attacking the rule-makers from their office-block squat, and have not only used their technological intelligence to facilitate the democratically safe purchase of drugs, where, like ebay or Amazon, sellers gain ratings based on the quality and delivery of their products – but also the world’s fastest-growing currency.

Bitcoin was originally developed by an unknown, pseudo-named character (or possibly group of people), Satashi Nakamoto. Claiming to be Japanese, but believed to be British due to his use of language, this person expressed contempt for the banking system, and so applied his knowledge of cryptography to create a virtual currency. As it doesn’t subscribe to central banking legislation, it doesn’t have to follow their rules. So it’s use on dark web economies such as unlicensed gambling and drug purchasing sites is commonplace. However, it’s lack of central control means it has alternative appeal – Wikileaks started using the currency to side-step imposed banking restrictions, and when Iran was recently isolated from centralised banking systems, causing its currency to collapse, Bitcoin gave Iranians access to international currency markets.

Now I know this seems to be straying from my usual theme of drugs, but for me the topics are inextricably linked. In the same way that the sharing of porn was attributed to the initial popularity of the Internet, it seems that the sale of illicit substances was the driving market force behind the popularity of this new currency concept. Untracable, unrestrictable, and decentralised, Bitcoin has been likened to a banking guerrilla movement. And, much like the Internet, while this degree of freedom is bound to be attractive to the grubbier side of life, it seems to me that the possible applications are revolutionary.

In the first place, from the perspectives of drug markets, it cuts out the middle men – stereotypically (for good reason) the self-serving gangsters who manage to evade the law through means of financial dominance and fear. It puts the power into the hands of the educated chemist or the tech-savvy bedroom geek, and removes the ability to force control and market dominance through the use of threat and violence. And for the purchaser, the only real risk is possible loss of funds – as opposed to loss of consciousness.

Secondly, this process is wholly democratic. Your face doesn’t have to fit, you don’t need a gun or a baseball bat, your popularity is all about the quality of your product and the service you provide. Much like ebay, the international word-of-mouth is a value reminiscent of the now eroded physical local community.

Thirdly – and possibly, from a wider-reaching and potentially immensely valuable perspective – it means that we do not need to be dependent on a financial system that has shown itself to be no better than the gun-wielding crack dealers. Corrupt, immoral, and self-serving, our faith in international banking systems has been demolished. This fully decentralised method of financial exchange operates a peer-to-peer system, and network rules are made clear and agreed by anyone using it.

And so whether Bitcoin is a flash-in-the-pan, or a currency revolution, there is no doubt that it offers hope of a new way forward. The editor of Bitcoin Magazine claims that Bitcoin is to money what email was to the postal system. Time will tell. But there is no denying that, with a value increase from 5 cents to $138 in three years (which is pretty much a 100% increase since The Guardian article was written less than 2 weeks ago, apparently in response to the situation in Cyprus), at a time when traditional currency is showing its fatal flaws, Bitcoin and its financial militants are something to watch with anarchist glee.

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