future of cocaine

Moral high ground: What is the future of cocaine?

Antony Loewenstein, the author of Pills, Powder and Smoke, asks can there ever be such a thing as ethically-sourced drugs?

Cocaine is everywhere. In offices and cafes, meeting rooms and parties, homes and bathrooms, restaurants and clubs, at universities and on bank notes. It’s never been so ubiquitous in the UK (and globally). And nor has it ever been this widely available, cheap and high in purity. Order it like you’re calling an Uber on your phone. Grams of cocaine are delivered to you in London and other major cities faster than a pizza or pint in a busy pub. Street dealing is declining in popularity, due to the extensive use of CCTV cameras — and so clever technology has turbo-charged the drug trade. Dealers now use call-centres in Belgium, Spain, the Balkans and France — through encrypted numbers — to get cocaine speed-delivered to them. Drug couriers, often from Albania, enter and leave the UK and complete their business in a matter of days. Street dealers often use Ubers as drug premises, and users are happy — while the rates of cocaine use and abuse continue to soar.

The dark web is now a place where many users buy cocaine and any number of legal and illicit substances. It’s much easier to buy drugs online than in person, and inarguably far safer to order a product that is sent to your house — not to mention that products often come with reviews of quality and strength. Although law enforcement is constantly taking down dark web sellers, and claiming they’re winning the war on online drug marketplaces, huge demand for prohibited drugs will continue to sustain these increasingly-used forums for cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, opioids, synthetics and marijuana.


But while it’s never been so easy to find illicit substances, too little thought is given to those individuals behind the drug — the farmers and mules in faraway nations such as Colombia and Peru that make the cocaine transaction so simple for a British consumer. The global cocaine supply chain is ugly, brutal and violent, and it screws almost everybody except the wealthy drug cartels.

I’ve spent the last five years investigating the global drug war for my book, Pills, Powder and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs. From Honduras to Guinea-Bissau, the Philippines to US and UK to Australia, I wanted to challenge the idea that the drug war is winding down or just happening in blood-soaked Mexico. If anything, it’s becoming more ferocious as global demand for illegal drugs surge.

Many US states are legalising marijuana, with poor records in giving access to the most disadvantaged groups after decades of the drug’s illegality. But this hasn’t stopped law enforcement arresting hundreds of thousands of Americans every year for marijuana possession. Cannabis remains illegal federally, and it’s highly likely that the drug’s status will change in the coming years.

Nonetheless, what I witnessed around the world was nothing less than mass carnage, dislocation and poverty due, in part, to a decades-old, global pro-drug war agenda. It claims to be fighting a war on drugs — but in reality it’s engaged in a war against the poor who have no voice in the political halls of the West where drug policy is crafted.

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