I was going to post the second blog in the Tales From The Cop Shop series, but there was a government announcement last week that made me decide to take a little pause in that particular narrative and direct my attention elsewhere. The announcement I’m referring to is the one concerning the government’s new 10-year strategy on drugs, which was accompanied by a shot of Boris, decked out like a bad extra from The Bill, on a frontline, down and dirty, drugs raid.
I can’t be the only one thinking – “Here we go again.”
Quite honestly my drug taking days are well and truly behind me, so any announcement on drugs has no real direct impact on my life. But there again, drug use is so prevalent in this country, that maybe there is an obscure effect that pervades the whole fabric of society. Nevertheless, I’m neither one of the disenfranchised who find solace in the company of other lost souls, or neither am I someone who has allowed an addiction to drive them to that point of desperation that sticking a needle in my groin is all I can think of. Nor am I one of middle-class liberals who enjoy and indulge in the ritual of snorting coke at vegan, eco-friendly, non-binary dinner parties, very much in the way their grandfathers would have indulged in a chauvinistic glass of brandy. So from that point of view, I have to admit I’m out of the loop. No longer am I approached on the streets and asked if I “need anything,” and if at some function I see the 20-somethings giggling their way to the loo for a “quick line,” I am no longer politely invited. So my take on drugs is not from someone who is at the heart of that world or indeed even on the periphery, and with that in mind I decided to co-opt the thoughts of my beautiful granddaughter, Talz Faraday. Talz is fifteen, smart and certainly not afraid of expressing her opinions. Her take on the on-going difficulty, will be from someone who is a prime target for the ‘school gate dealers.’
But let me start with what is definitely an exaggeration, which is … every time I open a newspaper, watch the news or even view a movie, I’m bombarded with the idea that the world is just one big drug fest. Drugs … drugs … and more drugs! It’s either some kid, who is always the brightest and ‘most likely to rule the world’, having OD’d or taken something that they’d got off the internet, or the police are busting the biggest haul of cocaine known to man, or there’s somebody in some toilet some place, a club, a house, a school, either snorting something up their nose or sticking something into a vein. As I confess … that’s an exaggeration, but only a slight exaggeration.
Out of the saturation of drugs news, my conclusion, my simple conclusion, is that the world falls into three distinct categories, those who are addicted to drugs, those who don’t do drugs and those who are recreational drug users (and it’s always “not a problem”) News flash – at one time, before they started using, it wasn’t a problem for anybody, not a problem for Peaches Geldof, Ike Turner or Rod Scurry (you might need to look him up). It wasn’t a problem when I had my first cigarette at the ripe old age of seven, yeah, not seventeen … SEVEN! Of course, it was a total kid thing and smoking was what macho grown up males did with aplomb, and I wanted to be a macho male. At the time it was what most boys wanted – they wanted to be an adult and adulthood was synonymous with smoking. My father smoked, so was I just emulating him? I doubt it, cigarettes were ubiquitous, and the image was sexy, I think I’d have done it with or without my father habit.
In 1959 a new brand of cigarette was launched. It was called Strand. As far as I can remember it was the first pack of cigarettes that was flip top, not a push through. Strand had a massive TV advertising campaign. It showed a wet, deserted street with a man in a classic 50s Sam Spade raincoat. He moodily takes out a pack of Strand, extracts a cigarette and in Bogartesque fashion, lights up. A voice over slogan, sensual and masculine oozes: “You’re never alone with a Strand. The cigarette of the moment” I loved that commercial, saved up my spending money and went out and bought a pack. (In those days you could buy cigarettes in any quantity, I’d normally buy, two or three at a time “… for me mum.”) To purchase a whole pack was special and I felt cool flicking it open, taking out a cigarette and lighting up. For me there could not have been a more successful ad campaign. But that wasn’t the case for Strand cigarettes. Sales were crap. Only 0.3% of male smokers and 0.7% of female smokers bought a pack. Apparently, most people associated Strandcigarettes with being lonely and loneliness wasn’t a strong selling point. The tobacco company rebranded the cigarettes as Embassy, did a TV commercial which showed a man all by himself in the middle of a party getting out a packet of Embassy, handing them round and wham bam he’s suddenly the man. Embassy went onto be the biggest selling cigarettes in the 1960s.
It was an era when smoking was totally accepted. A drug you could buy over the counter. I eventually stopped in my early 30s, but it wasn’t easy. Addiction isn’t just about heroin or cocaine or methamphetamine, temptation is all around – drink, food, porn, anorexia, bulimia you name it … but we’ve chosen to fixate on drugs, because I presume there’s a belief that it’s the most destructive. I don’t know the figures, but I’m guessing globally still more people die from the effects of tobacco and alcohol, than they do from crack or ketamine or other illegal substances.
Cigarettes were once pervasive in society, but in the UK, that is no longer the case. Not a single person in my immediate family smokes and there’s maybe just one in my extended family. We don’t make a big deal of it and slowly the problem seems to diminish.
Now I have to hold my hands up, I’ve written my fair share of dramas that involved drugs. The second radio play I was commissioned for was called No Get Out Clause, and it was about a father, played by Norman Beaton, who took out his anger and frustration on the drug dealer that had been supplying his daughter. It was when I was thinking about that play, it struck me that I needed the input of a ‘younger’ person. Talz was my first choice. We have a pretty open relationship, I’m sure there are things she won’t tell me and there are things I don’t tell her, but on the whole we’re honest with each other and I asked her to be honest in her appraisal of the situation – and I believe she has been. You’ll be able to judge for yourselves, but first – my take on the situation.
I’ll kick of by saying drugs are not bad, if they were bad, nobody would use them. The biggest problem with drugs is that they’re good. They make you feel great. I say this from personal experience. In my teens, while I was still at school, the world I was involved with socially, regularly would involve spending Saturday nights in dingy, damp cellars or railway arches which were the locations of clubs with enticing names such as The Little Fat Black Pussy Cat, The Plebs or The Twisted Wheel. But these clubs weren’t just open seven till eleven, invariably they kept going all night. The time was spent dancing the night away to a mixture of live music and recorded music. But to be able to sustain these marathon hedonistic stints, most people took a few amphetamine pills. I have to be honest I loved the kick it gave me, it also meant if I wasn’t at a club dancing the night away (I know – hard to imagine) I was in my bedroom, up all night, reading everything from Dickens to the Bible – I just loved it.
But like any drug the more you take, the more you need to repeat the high. Slipping into an addiction is so easy. The ‘highs’ become more difficult to create and the ‘downs’ increase in their severity. To combat both these situations there’s one simple answer – more pills, more often. And so addiction is born. Dead fucking simple. And this cycle is the same for heroin, cocaine, dope, legal highs or legal booze. It’s not difficult to figure out and it’s about the only thing you don’t need a degree for.
There is only one effective way of curtailing this addiction and the efficacy of that solution lies in the addict’s state of mind, which is – they must want to stop. The end of the road for me was when I spent a whole French lesson in a cupboard. Don’t ask. At that point it was clear that the drugs were controlling me, rather than me controlling them. I have, on a number of occasions been accused of being a ‘control freak,’ something I totally reject, whilst at the same time understand where it’s coming from. But the idea of being controlled by anything seemed a totally shit place to be. So I stopped. Did I miss them? Too right. Was I tempted to do the ‘one last time’ routine? Too right. But if you want to stop, you want to stop … and I wanted to stop. If I tell this school days anecdote to anybody who has never taken any drugs, then they inevitably ooze sympathy remarking it must have been a dark period in my life. I tell them they’re totally wrong. To this day the feeling those pills gave me, still excites me. Chances are if I had continued into my twenties, thirties and so on, then I would by now be scattered in a rose garden somewhere, long forgotten.
The only other outings I had with drugs was smoking the occasional joint, a few times at college and then when I was in Holland on the film A Bridge Too Far. Dope was never really my thing. Invariably it made me fall asleep, whilst at the same time, the people around me became less gregarious, both of which weren’t particularly entertaining. On A Bridge Too Far the falling asleep element actually came in rather handy. We were working long hours and at the end of a day’s filming, the temptation to head to the nearest bar to unwind, was often too tempting. After a few drinks you considered yourself to be invincible, the evening turned into the early hours of the morning and the next thing you knew is you’d managed to grab barely a couple of hours sleep and you were getting up to start another day’s filming. Not good. However, a joint instantly relaxed me and put me out as if I’d been given a general anaesthetic. I’d wake the next morning, ready to fight a few more Germans.
I relate these stories to try and illustrate that drugs are all about choice. The choice is yours which path you take. I don’t believe in addictive characters or non-addictive characters. There are those that go down a certain path and can handle it and those that can’t. But ultimately the choice lays with the individual.
But it’s clear that all this drug taking is having a detrimental effect on society and I’m not just referring to down and outs jacking up, or the thousands of robberies that take place every day to feed the seemingly uncontrollable drug habits, but there are people very close to me that have had a terrific life style, but now their life has disappeared into a haze of alcohol and cocaine.
So what’s the answer?
My solution is simple – legalise the lot.
Think about prohibition. Alcohol was illegal … okay it never was in this country, but during the 1st World War, pub opening hours were severely restricted, and not eased up until 1988. But throughout prohibition drinking in Speakeasys continued, in fact being illegal made it more attractive to a lot of people. You can be naughty without actually harming anyone but yourself. You become part of some special club. During prohibition the Mafia got a hold and never let go. At the moment in the UK kids get killed in drug wars, while some drug baron on the other side of the world reaps the rewards. So legalise the lot.
There would be shops that sold all manner of drugs – if you wanted it, you could buy it, dope, coke, heroin anything. The drugs would be regulated and checked, in the same way alcohol is regulated and checked. They would be sold over a counter to anyone over eighteen, and the profit margin would be the equivalent to any other retailer. They would also be taxed. Think of the income. And there would be a big warning sign, similar to those displayed on cigarette packs – If you take drugs you could die – up to you!
During prohibition there were still alcoholics. Prostitution itself isn’t illegal, but kerb crawling, soliciting and pimping are. Has this stopped men seeking out prostitutes? No. Like drugs, regulate it, tax it as a business, at the same time freeing up police manpower to concentrate on stopping the real sickness – trafficking and child abuse.
If we legalise drugs we’ll still have addicts, we’ll still have those who are unable to cope, but legalising it would stop the horrific amount of crime that is connected to drugs and it will hand over the choice to the individual. A gradually shift in the attitude to smoking has certainly had an impact. Millions of people that were addicted to smoking, no longer are. They made the choice to stop. Not easy, numerous different methods are employed from cold turkey to hypnotism to vaping, the result people still smoke, but lots no longer do. If drugs were legal the glamour would disappear. Dramas would have to look elsewhere for their narratives and slowly, I believe, drugs taking/addiction would shrink. There will always be people who take drugs, it will never be eradicated, but it would no longer have that grip on society, that it does at the moment. And if you’re old enough to vote, to have a say on the running of this country, then they’re old enough to decide whether you wish to take the risk or not. If you take drugs you could die – up to you!
NOW TALZ’S TAKE ON DRUGS …
Personally, I don’t agree with the use of recreational drugs, but I also think that the government haven’t controlled drugs in the U.K. well. I’m in year 11 (aged 15) and already I know that many people in my year have done drugs and there are also many who are interested in taking them. Currently we get an assembly where the headteacher will tell us to not take drugs because they will have harmful effects and that if we do take them and get caught, we will be expelled. The scare tactics used are completely ineffective and will not eradicate the use of drugs in schools or in later life. On the government’s website they even say that scare tactics aren’t effective on their own, but what else are they advocating? As yet nobody seems to be coming up with a viable solution.
I don’t believe that we will ever be able to eliminate the drug problem in the U.K. because if we made all drugs legal and just put an age limit on it, for example 18, then people under that age are only going to want to take drugs, which is exactly what happens with drinking and smoking. I also believe that it would be irresponsible for all drugs to be legal for everyone, as this could mean that younger children take them which could then affect them later in life. What I would do is legalise cannabis and other drugs which are less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. By legalising some drugs, it could take away some of the peer pressure that people might experience, and a lot about being a teenager, is about peer pressure. The government would also be able to put a tax on it and so the economy would be able to benefit from it as well. In 2019 it was estimated that the legal cannabis market in US was worth around 13 billion dollars – what’s the illegal one worth? Some research has also shown that when marijuana was legalised crime rates went down in those areas. It’s something I think we should certainly be considering.
Overall, I believe that the use of those drugs that are considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco should be legalised. Most experts have said that you cannot die from just using marijuana, as long as it’s pure and not cut with any other substance, whilst people are dying all the time from alcohol poisoning. Even though drugs can have different effects on people so can alcohol – in 2015 a study in the U.S. showed that there are around 2,200 deaths because of alcohol poisoning each year. If these drugs are made legal then it could benefit the economy and reduce the crime rates.
So that’s Talia’s take on the drug situation, and it seems we’re not poles apart, there is some common ground there.
I reckon this is Priti Patel’s chance to have her name emblazoned in history forever, by following my suggestion and legalising all drugs for those over eighteen. The main benefits are many, but primarily, the crime rate would drop. There would be no more drug wars, no more robbing to feed an addiction, no innocent bystanders being caught in crossfire and no longer would police resources be used chasing the impossibility dream – the eradication of drug use. Also death caused by drugs use would decrease, as the product would be checked and verified and a number, maybe not a tremendous amount, but at least some, would take heed of the warning – If you take drugs you could die! And then there’s the revenue to the government which would be huge, drug sales would be taxed, they would no doubt take a share of the income, in fact why not nationalise drug taking, I bet it would work far more efficiently and create much more revenue than either the trains or the mines. But perhaps most importantly, he said facetiously … writers would have to think of other methods of driving their narratives! Now that would be exciting.
Next time – more TALES FROM THE COP SHOP, the second part of my adventures trailing the West Yorkshire police in the late 1980s. This blog will take all readers a few thousand words closer to the reason I wrote my second novel – EDGE OF CIVILISATION, now due out in April. It’s a story motivated by that time I spent with the police, mixed with other elements that I’ve either witnessed or read about, plus my imagination. Although it has some drug taking in it, it’s almost incidental. The story would work without it. This is a story not driven by drugs, it’s driven by … Sorry – I’ve been told you have to wait until April.