Julie Burchill

There’s no such thing as ‘woke coke’

There's no such thing as 'woke coke'
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Have you heard about ‘Woke Coke’ – ‘Wokaine’, if you will? Apparently drug dealers are now targeting the WaWs (Woke And Wealthy) with gear at £200 a gram (when I quit six years ago, £70 was the going price) and a promise that your particular little bindel of joy is 'environmentally friendly' and 'ethically sourced’ from ‘well-paid farmers.’ 

Reading about it this week, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or call the police and report myself for historical crimes against humanity. I don’t regret much in my long, louche life. But if I could go back in time and undo one thing, I’d return to 1985 when I started taking cocaine and thereafter took it pretty much every day for thirty years. Because, like most purchasers of illegal drugs, I was partly responsible for the untold misery – probably even the deaths – of impoverished strangers, just for some fleeting fun. How typical of the WaWs that their virtue-signalling and vice-ignoring would find a home here.

What’s their excuse, these privileged creatures with their *uni* and parental wealth? Mine was that I was a shy working-class girl transported from a provincial classroom to the heady world of rock and roll at the age of 17 when I got my first job in journalism at the New Musical Express. I started taking amphetamine sulphate (powdered speed) because it made me bold and talkative; I bought mine from a charming, academic man, but I had friends who bought a really super-strong sort from actual Hell’s Angels.

Looking back, it seems so wholesome – speed was easily manufactured (‘bathtub sulphate’) within this spectred isle; and if you liked pure stuff like pills, there were bona fide Big Pharma amphetamines for sale by employees who had decided to set up a little side hustle. Nothing came from abroad: we were buying British, and thus the chain of misery which occurs when drugs originate from and/or are smuggled from impoverished countries didn’t occur

Though amphetamines have been demonised – even throughout pop culture, with the nagging SPEED KILLS campaign in the 1960s, which every musician from Frank Zappa to Jim Morrison happily wagged a finger on behalf of – there’s a lot to be said for it. If you simply must talk rubbish and lose your teeth, it’s cheap and local and sooner rather later you think ‘This is horrible!’ and quit. 

Cocaine is far more insidious; when I was given it in my first year at the NME by a record company A&R man (textbook!) I thought it was sulphate but was quickly disabused of the notion by the distinctively silky high; like being smarmed over by some dapper sex pest. I was hilariously furious when I found out it was coke: it was everything we punks hated! But by the time the 1980s came around, always open-minded, I was willing to give it another go – and I kept giving it the benefit of the doubt for thirty years until I quit in 2015.

I gave up overnight simply because I’d had enough. There was no *rock bottom* or health emergency. It just got old. Now at last I could consider clearly the human price paid by others in order to provide me with a cheap(ish) thrill. And it’s this dilemma which is clearly driving those poncy metropolitans who – as I did – have more money than sense or self-awareness in the pursuit of Fair Trade Class As. 

The actress Davinia Taylor summed it up well:

‘They’ve got their vegan food, their organic wine and their woke coke and a spliff, going: ‘It’s fine, it’s sustainable, we’re actually putting back in to the countryside’…the hypocrisy, it’s bullshit.’

I’m far from being a supporter of the ceaselessly failing ‘war on drugs’. In the wake of the pandemic, the taxable revenue the state could raise on the estimated £2 billion trade in cocaine in this country alone would be more than welcome. 

The drug only became illegal relatively recently; no one’s saying that Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill wasted their lives because they once shared a packet of cocaine chewing gum. 

Drug policy honcho Neil Woods, though dismissing Woke Coke as a marketing ploy, added: 

'There is no way you can have environmentally-friendly cocaine, not when the market is unregulated like it is today.'

When I was a coke fiend in the 198os, writing thousands of words a day and paying the top tax rate, I would seethe when I’d see my local pharmacist hand some lazy junkie their little cup of methadone; why couldn't a super-productive person like me get a bump for free? And I’m sure our elected politicians wouldn’t find this subject too unfamiliar if called upon to make new laws; when Vice swabbed the surfaces in the House of Commons a few years back, one of the areas displaying the highest levels of residue was the toilets by the Strangers Bar, only accessible to MPs, high-ranking public officials and their guests. Everybody’s at it – apart from me.

But until such a time as laws may change, those who identify as decent people while buying cocaine are simply vile hypocrites. 

A friend was at a dinner party in North London this year at the multi-million pound home of a left-wing couple, when the teenage dealer who always appeared arrived. Rather than wearing his usual hoodie, he was smart in a suit – because he’d been to the funeral of his friend, also a teenage drug runner. The rich white folks still bought the coke anyway. 

‘She’s a racist – how can you bear to be friends with her? She’s against Black Lives Matter!’ one of them said to my friend of mine between snorts. But I do very much believe that black lives, like all lives, matter – which is one of the reasons I am very glad I no longer take cocaine.