As President Santos prepares to shake up the drug policy in Colombia, a look at what it is like living in the country and my attempts to understand its relationship with, and reaction to the issue of drugs...
The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos recently made the front cover of Time Magazine and he will be heralded again next month; featuring in their list of the world´s 100 most influential people. One of the subjects which has brought him the most column inches recently has been that of drugs policy, where he potentially proposes the most radical shift in policy since US President ´Tricky Dickie´ Nixon first got so touchy about the whole shebang forty-odd years ago.
Santos’s close aide and ambassador to London, Mauricio Rodríguez, said the outcome of the suggested in-depth research and policy review supported by his party “could mean anything from blanket legalization – to a new and different war on drugs. We just do not know until we have the data, investigate every option with open minds, and have the full picture drawn up by experts who know the terrain, and are not motivated by interests, ideology or emotion. Whatever it is, it must be real change, based upon new paradigms.”
Rodriguez continues, “Why is Colombia leading this? Because we have learned the hard way, and have the moral authority. In the 1980s we failed to face the reality, and as a result our society was taken to the brink and almost destroyed by the violence of the drug cartels. We do not want other places, in Central America or Africa, to go through the pain we went through. They – and all of us – have to act fast, because the many-headed monster grows very fast and destroys very fast…. For so many years it has been easy for politicians to blame drug-producing nations like Colombia for poisoning their lovely kids. And the result has been a stigma on Colombia. But that game – that farce – is now over. We are not pointing any fingers, and Colombia will not act unilaterally. But we are saying that there is a shared responsibility between consuming and producing nations who must all now co-operate on a global scale to stop the scourge of drugs in our societies.”
Like Keith Vaz and the House of Commons select committee inviting Russell Brand in for a cozy chat, it seems Santos too is backing a more informed approach to dealing with the drugs issue, which, whatever his motivations, seems like a sensible idea. Many drug users live normal, well-adjusted and balanced lives, while others with addiction issues; find their world torn apart by a narcotic reliance. Why not look at how we can control both types of usage and monitor the supply, quality and effects (of drugs) with much more precision?
Why not look at how we can control both types of usage and monitor the supply, quality and effects (of drugs) with much more precision?
I consider myself in the first category of drug user, casual, social, occasional and balanced; although I do smoke marijuana every day. Drugs work slightly differently here in Colombia to the way in which they do in the UK, and by that I mean the infrastructure and culture, not the effects. In this piece, reflecting upon recent (DEA flattened) ripples in the pool of drugs policy procedure, I will outline what it´s like living in Colombia and understanding its relationship with, and reaction to the issue of DRUGS.
The first point of contact for nearly all travelers arriving in Colombia is Bogota. It´s greyer, colder and less glamorous than its smaller, but more notorious cousin, Medellin. But Bogota does have certain charms of its own; you just have to make a bit more effort to get to grips with this vast metropolis, home to ten million people.
Upon my arrival, some two and a half years ago, I awoke on the first morning with my usual cerebral appetite for marijuana’s warm and numbing embrace. As a lone traveler in a new city, the first score is normally a tricky one. I was lucky in that I had the contact number of an amigo of an amigo from Barcelona, who I was reliably informed was a smoker.
Weed smoking has connected me to interesting and useful people for my whole smoking life (some twenty-odd years) and this connection was no different. Not only was she beautiful and fluent in English, but within a few hours of my initial call, she had me installed in the living room of a local dealer with three different varieties of the stinkiest of sticky icky. I felt like Augustus Gloop entering Wonka´s Chocolate Room.
I purchased 30grams each of Cali Orange and an even fruiter variety called Piña (Pineapple) for a total of 200,000 pesos (80pounds) enough to get you about ten grams of the equivalent quality in London. A very pleasing first morning´s exploration.
As a lone traveler in a new city, the first score is normally a tricky one.
We´d smoked a few pure pipes with the dealer, but I was keen to get back to my hostel and give this stuff a proper test, British style with tobacco and a king skin. That’s when I encountered the first peculiarity of Colombian smoking culture… Rolling papers (here cuedos, literally skins) are not easy to come by.
Whereas in Blighty you´re never more than five minutes from a local store supplying all of your dope smoking needs, in Colombia stockists are extremely few and far between. Smoking Reds (small size) are the most common variety, sold on street corners or in markets by ´artisans´, but the true British stoner longs for a more refined, fine paper, and if one goes to specialist import shops one can find OCB Silvers. When given the opportunity to do so, one must STOCK UP!
Tobacco was requirement number two. Lucky Strikes at 80p per packet of 20 is fair enough, but rolling tobacco is again, extremely difficult to track down, and very expensive. I have to get mine posted from Spain. Colombians will only smoke marijuana pure and are appalled by the notion of mixing with any kind of tobacco. Many Colombians do smoke weed, but it is by no means as common or as generally accepted as it is in the UK. The average young Colombian will be shocked if you casually begin smoking a joint in front of them, and policy here was reformed under the previous president (Uribe) in 2010 to make all marijuana possession illegal- where previously minimal amounts had been considered not worthy of prosecution.
Dance music (Electronica as they call it) and its associated highs are becoming increasingly popular in Colombia’s cities. Ecstasy and MDMA use is on the up, but prices are still expensive with ´MD´ at 60pounds per gram. Acid is extremely popular with the tight-trouser-legged teens with the angular mullet haircuts; and retails for approx. 8pounds per tab. Hoffman’s are particularly en-vogue at the time of writing this piece
Colombians will only smoke marijuana pure and are appalled by the notion of mixing with any kind of tobacco.
And so to Colombia´s most famous export: Cocaine. It is of course, as one would expect, pretty easy to get hold of in any city or town. Many taxi drivers will offer to take you to a ´barrio´ (neighborhood) with street dealers vending gram bags for 5pounds or less. But getting past the street dealers and to the pure rock, the shiny stuff that Melle Mel warned you about, is not so easy.
The reason why is – EXPORT, that´s what Colombian criminals do with 99% of the drugs produced here. If you want to get really good cocaine in Colombia, just like anywhere else, you need some good contacts. Having said that, the street stuff can still be pretty mind-blowing and the prices are hard to argue with (travel advice: Don´t argue!). If you can get your grubby mitts on the good stuff, it tends to retail at about one pound (sterling) more per gram.
Cocaine is not a conversation topic most Colombians enjoy. Most hate it infact. The stereotype and the national history of violence and death that it brings with it make it pretty much taboo in many circles, and far fewer Colombians are casual users than Hollywood might have you believe. Again, that´s more a Gringo (Westerner) thing, most Colombians are reserved and hardworking people.
Colombia does however have a problem with a rather dirty bi-product of cocaine production called perica. Perica, often mistaken to be another word for cocaine, is actually mainly the chemicals etc. that are ´washed out´ during the process of refinement. It can retail for as little as 30p a gram and is potentially blinding and deadly. It´s popular amongst Colombia´s many homeless street people and seeing it´s devastating effects is in stark contrast to coke´s glamorous international image.
Colombia also has a fascinating history of indigenous drugs culture. The cocoa leaf has been chewed by Colombia’s original people since it seems, the dawn of time. Various species of magic mushroom, not dissimilar to Britain’s native Liberty-Caps of Fly-Agraic are also endemic and entwined within tribal myth.
For me, the most fascinating of Colombia´s native hallucinogenic plants is Ayahuasca (derived from a tree-hanging vine) which is said to be the plant of infinite knowledge. I have yet to try this amazingly spiritual experience, but have researched it in some detail. I would recommend anyone with an open mind on the subject of spirituality and human development to read Graham Hancock’s book Supernatural – Meetings with the ancient teachers of mankind, which advocates the theory that only the knowledge gained from the teachings of this sacred plant can save mankind from his eventual (technology inspired) self-destruction.
Marijuana for sure is a separate issue to that of ´hard´ drugs and should, in my opinion (and that of most rational human beings) be separately classified
I´m not sure which tree Santos is barking up with his talk of radically amended international drugs policy (he´s been a lot quieter on the subject since Obama´s recent visit), but I am sure that there is some sense to be found in the points which he raises. Marijuana for sure is a separate issue to that of ´hard´ drugs and should, in my opinion (and that of most rational human beings) be separately classified, if only to send out the right message to children – that smoking weed is not the same as sniffing cocaine!
I find that life in general is a much nicer place to be after the addition of THC to my bloodstream, but everyone is different and reacts to stimulants in their own, chemically pre-conditioned way. One man´s ceiling is another man´s floor. I will journey to Medellin in the next few months to meet a shaman and have my first experience of Ayahuasca. My research on the subject tells me that it can be a very fast or very slow learning process, in accordance again on one´s personal predisposition. I am also told it can be a deeply private, spiritual and rewarding experience and I will report my findings (to some degree) here on ST in the near future.
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