Inside London’s revolutionised drug trade

    A Coffee pot frenzy 

From reefer-fueled jazz dives and opium dens to today’s crack and meth houses, the UK still has some of the strongest anti-drug laws in Europe where a new way of taking drugs is emerging. Hidden in plain sight are Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes-opening up across London as the police struggle to deal with the spread. Alina Ahmed has been finding out.

Inside Cafe
(View of customers queuing to be served inside the Cannabis Cafe)

In an affair reminiscent of prohibition-era speakeasies, last years statistics show that, 1 in 11 adults aged 16 to 59 years used recreational drugs- irrespective of its legality. Despite the UK’s firm view on the drug, many parts of the United States, and the Netherlands have adopted a different stance towards the drug legalising the use of it. The UK passed the“Misuse of Drugs Act” in 1971 declaring ‘That the main purpose of the Act is to prevent the misuse of controlled drugs and achieves this by imposing a complete ban on the possession, supply, manufacture, import and export of controlled drugs.’

Despite this, the upscaling of this industry continues to rise- currently standing at a worth of 3 million a day. Those indulging in the use of drugs increase the risk factors for physical victimisation and aggression, but is there a safer and controlled way to help decrease this trend?

Behind closed doors, dealers have established Amsterdam style cannabis cafes, with risk of police intervention almost inevitable both “clients” and “staff” are taking on an enormous risk. Police have already raided multiple locations across London, and as chances of exposure increase, these ‘business enterprises’ have taken the trade underground. Run with tight security measures, these cafes carry out both the consumption and vending of cannabis. These establishments have taken inspiration from Amsterdam where both the use and sale for recreational use is legal.

Underground cannabis dens have operated under the radar in various guises since the 1960’s. Commonly found behind unmarked doors which would not seem out of the ordinary to pedestrians. Operating deep into the night, these cafes often have a mere few months before they eventually are raided and need to move locations. AdamsDen, a popular spot was recently raided by the MetForce. After seizing thousands of pounds worth of Class B drugs and issuing fines, the men running the operation were forced to halt their operation and ‘lay low.’ I managed to speak to one dealer as he expressed his frustration ‘…At the end of the day this is my income, its the only way I can afford to live and put food on the table. When you’re in this trade there is no right or wrong you simply do what you have to do. Put it like this, I’m running a business- I run a service and provide the product for people and they pay me for it.’ Another partner spoke in regards to how the trade isn’t ‘black and white’ but merely ‘heavily misinterpreted and misunderstood individuals.’  Wishing to remain anonymous he states ‘ Anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter what you look like or have, I grew up with this, its all I’ve known, I tried the legit way and it didn’t work so I stuck what I knew, starting a ‘den’ gave me the opportunity to provide a steady income for myself as well as give the “youngers” a different and new experience’ Those who come into the cafe are vigorously watched. ‘I can’t have someone come in and start trouble, it only brings unwanted attention’ Entering the cafe comes with no simplicity with some asking for proof of ID whilst others have a strict ‘one person at a time’ policy. Entrances are watched heavily as CCTV actively monitors those coming in and out of the premises.

In April 2018, the government launched the first ‘Serious Violence Strategy’ which was backed with £40m of Home Office funding. The strategy aimed to waylay a “real step-change” in how the UK tackled violent drug-dealing gangs affairs and their recruitment of vulnerable youngsters. Almost every month, the Met’s command unit which covers areas within East London refers 1,000 young children who are presumed to be at risk of gang membership. Rt Hon Amber Rudd, who served as Home Secretary from 2016-2018 laid out this strategy and stated in her foreword that it ‘represents a very significant programme of work’ as ‘intervening early can help us catch young people before they go down the wrong path, encouraging them to make positive choices’ This strategy stresses the importance of early intervention to tackle the root causes and provide young people with the skills and resilience to lead productive lives free from violence. She further went on to identify the change in the drug market as she stated ‘The changing drugs market is identified as one of the drivers of the recent increase in violent crime.’

However, whilst the government seem to be on a crack down and aim to eliminate all aspects of drug violence, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan reportedly has plans to decriminalise certain drugs in a new scheme. He intends to end prosecution of young people caught with cannabis by putting a series of preventative measures in place with a much more relaxed approach to drug offences as under 25s who are caught with Class B drugs are to receive awareness classes or counselling, instead of facing arrests.

With talks of relaxation in the works, for café users it certainly seems that they may be able to take a breath of relief. Enter the café and you are greeted with street style graffiti sprayed onto the walls. The dim lighting and smokey atmosphere sets the tone for smokers as they enjoy their smoke with screens displaying football matches as well as loud scenes of music. One teen said he was only there to chill with his mates and have a smoke. ‘I just come here to vibe and unwind, my friends are regulars here so it kind of became our spot to hang and chill, the owners are nice and let us do what we want unless we’re creating trouble… I’ve seen a couple of people been thrown out’

Although these dens have helped create a ‘vibe’, has the trade actually benefited those involved?  Research on treatments for medical conditions has been re-evaluated through time as medicinebecomes more modern, but statistics show a more unorthodox treatment is being explored. Cannabis is now being reviewed on a legal level after being considered an illegal substance for decades in many countries. Recent studies show a majority of Americans support legalising marijuana for medical or recreational use. States such as California legalised the use of medical marijuana and the use of it recreationally in 1996. When THC enters the system, it attaches itself to and stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain causing its effects to vary amongst each individual, as some report they feltreduced pain and inflammation, increased appetite, nausea, and insomnia.

Undoubtedly, the rise of Cannabis and other drugs is spreading and the police seem unable to resolve it, so if the government does want to reduce the harm it thinks these drugs are doing, then it clearly needs to rethink its strategy.


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