Pubdate: Sun, 28 Oct 2007
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Cosmo Landesman
Bookmark: (Opinion)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Government figures released last week reveal that fewer young people
aged 16-24 are using cannabis. I don't know if this includes the
current dynamic duo of self-destruction Pete Doherty and Amy
Winehouse, but there are signs that even they are having a change of
heart and maybe habit. After a busy week in the courts, Doherty
suggested that he is going to clean up his act. Winehouse also spoke
last week about her "shame" over taking so many drugs.

I have a little shame of my own I'd like to get off my chest. Back in
the late 1960s I was a teenage druggy and so was everyone I knew. The
great and the groovy of the baby boomer generation believed that drug
taking wasn't just fun, but also a tool of personal liberation that
would make us freer and happier as individuals and as a society. Turn
on, tune in, drop out, said the man.

To justify our excessive dope taking we used to quote William Blake's
dictum that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. We soon
found out that it leads to hairy men passing out on your living-room
floor and throwing up on your cat. Even back then lives were being
destroyed and brains scrambled, but we stayed silent.

Anyone who questioned the benefits of drugs or suggested there might
be harmful side effects was a terrible square or a total fascist.

Along with the decline in cannabis use comes the news that more young
people are taking cocaine and heroin. Unrepentant boomers would say:
you can't blame that one on us - we always looked down on those drugs.

That was true among serious pot smokers, but even heroin had a cool
cachet because of its association with brilliant jazz musicians such
as Charlie Parker and writers like William Burroughs. By the end of
the 1960s, boomers put away their Beatles albums and got into the
Velvet Underground.

As for the growing use of cocaine, it was the counterculture's
favourite film - Easy Rider in 1969 - that first made it a fashionable
drug. Yes, I know that in Britain in the 1920s it was considered
terribly chic to take a whiff among the decadent circles of the Bright
Young Things. But back then cocaine usage did not seep out into the
rest of society.

That was the legacy of the 1960s generation. It was the Beatles who
sang how they would "love to turn you on". It was the mission
statement of a whole generation - and in a sense this is what they
did. We sold the idea that drugs were good and glamorous to the rest
of the world.

Now when we look around at the impact that drugs have had on
contemporary Britain - the terrible rise of gun culture, the increase
in addiction, crime and mental health problems - who can't feel a
little shame for their celebration of drugs back in the stoned age of
the 1960s? 
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