Let me preface this by saying I have no opinion on the morality of using drugs for recreational purposes. I don’t personally, but I also don’t care if someone else does. The only time I’ve ever come even close to a judgment on the subject was watching an ex-friend of mine with horrid fascination as he methodically spent an evening snorting the coke he was supposed to head to Numbers to sell so he could pay his rent. Other than that, though, I don’t care what you smoke, snort, swallow or inject.
That said, I’ve run into a fair amount of preachers of social justice who are fond of a little nose candy. What’s the harm, right? Hollywood makes cocaine seem like the nectar of the rich and powerful. Moguls and stars and badasses do lines to fuel their adventures. Hell, there are even legal cocaine bars. Like marijuana, it even has valid medical uses. Surely it’s fine.
Yeah, no. Cocaine and social justice simply do not mix. If you’re buying cocaine, you are enabling human rights atrocities and massive environmental devastation. Let’s review.
Most cocaine comes from Colombia, and in Colombia various guerilla and paramilitary groups use the selling of cocaine to people like us to fund their wars. This results in some truly horrific incidences.
In a 2005 Guardian piece by Antony Barnett, he describes the fate of a 19-year-old girl who had the misfortune of stumbling upon a homemade landmine while chasing after an errant calf. The various cocaine warlords often set up these minefields to protect their hidden cocaine labs in the jungle. They move frequently, but don’t bother removing the mines. The girl, Olinda, was burned, blinded and had both hands blown off. She survived, at least. Tens of thousands of Colombians do not. It’s a place where the cocaine wars costing 23,000 lives annually is considered a good year.
Two years ago, things got very Game of Thrones in the cocaine game. In Tijuana, drug cartels started leaving severed heads around as a message, reported Andrea Noel of Vice. Two of them were left in a cooler near a popular children’s museum, which is admittedly educational. I could go on listing and sourcing all the murder and torture and atrocity that is involved in making sure a bunch of hipsters get to feel all tingly for a few minutes while dancing, but my web history is already so dark and weird the advertising algorithms have given up and just show me ads for Christian substance abuse counseling. So, let’s move on.
The devastation isn’t just on a human scale either. Cocaine production is rapidly becoming an environmental crisis as well.
I mentioned that cocaine manufacturing mostly takes place hidden in the Colombian rainforests. Here’s how that works: They grind up coca leaves into a paste, and then dust them with lime salt and kerosene. Then, it’s heated and mixed with sulphuric acid and caustic soda. This is on top of the fact that coca-growers use pesticides that are banned by the Colombian government.
Two main problems come from this process. The first is pretty obvious: deforestation. The rainforest is cleared for coca growth. The second is the toxic waste water. Often, it’s just dumped in the river, according to Miranda Larbi of Metro. To quote from her reporting:
“Cocaine is slowly pushing species to extinction by destroying their homes and polluting their water sources. Colombian rainforests boast something like 427 mammals, 1,300 birds and more than 400 amphibians. Imagine the horrible kind of death these animals face by consuming diesel-laced water or waste product.”
Many of the species being impacted are endangered, such as the harpy eagle. Where cocaine is being grown and manufactured, death follows like sunset follows the day.
I supposed it’s easy to get up on a high horse. Very few things in American life are free of some murderous taint. Look at your sneakers. Do you have any idea what the conditions are in the factories where your shoes are made? I’m wearing an outlet mall pair of Asics right now, and Asics has been trying to clean up their act, but I didn’t think about that when I bought them. I eat a ton of red meat, and that industry has quite the negative environmental impact. Then again, growing the staples of a vegetarian diet murders millions of animals.
As I said in the opening, I pass no judgment on the act of putting something in your body. God knows the last several years have made me sympathetic to people wanting to chemically numb themselves. However, there is a literal war being fought to provide people with cocaine. Men, women and children get gunned down in crossfires, blown up with mines or accidentally shot by the army when the line between villager and drug lord can’t be seen at a distance.
Social justice is a fine thing, but put the coke away before you talk to me about it.