East End’s Easy Drugs

Never mind the law, Terry Sorensen finds drug use ballooning. 

“So, you wanna do a balloon?” “What’s a balloon?” I replied. “It’s laughing gas,” she replied… laughing. I wasn’t even aware that laughing gas was used recreationally, or that it was normal to offer it to total strangers.

As someone who only arrived from Norway three months ago, a country of roughly 5 million people where no one I have met does that sort of thing, I found this rather strange, even scary. But it is something that I have quickly had to get used to – because in East London drugs seem to be everywhere.

Maybe this wouldn’t have phased my readers, but even for a Norwegian used to snow, standing outside a bar’s toilet and hearing someone vigorously snorting cocaine was quite a shock when I heard it here for the first time. Trying to use humour to get him to hurry up, I asked through the door whether he had a cold. I think I expected him to be embarrassed. But no way. He simply shouted back: “No man, I’m just doing some coke.” And when he eventually came out, he asked me if I wanted any!

So I guess it’s not just the prevalence of drugs that has surprised me, it’s the way no one seems to think it’s a big deal. Maybe that was a Tuesday night, because according to a piece I read recently, Tuesday is London’s peak day for coke. Why Tuesday!

Then there was the time I was out with a friend from Sweden. He took me to an inconspicuous place in Whitechapel where he rang the doorbell, and waved at a camera above our heads. The door clicked open and I entered into what I quickly realised was one of those coffee shops you get in Amsterdam. Hash and marihuana were available over the counter – and you could smoke on the premises! “I’ve been going here for ages,” my friend said, “… never heard of the police paying it any mind.”

The first time I was offered weed on the streets – again in East London – was also a surprise. But what shocked me most was that when I turned him down, the guy said, “well, let me just give you my phone number in case you change your mind.” I suppose the up side was that you could say he was very trusting, or crazy!

So OK, London has 8.5 million people, whereas Kristiansand where I come from only has around 87,000, but we have got one thing in common: drugs are illegal. The big difference here seems to be that, in the East End anyway, those laws are not enforced.

So no wonder the call for legalisation isn’t that strong – it doesn’t seem necessary.