Latest news from the secret economy (fwd)

Justin Mason jm at jmason.org
Thu Dec 18 10:10:02 PST 2003


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My favourite thing about this story is the Economist discussing the drug
economy seriously: 'from the dealers' point of view, prices of Ecstasy
tablets have fallen from more than £20 in the late 1980s to £4 or less
today. Profit margins have shrunk to as little as a pound a pill, which
hardly justifies the opprobrium and long prison sentences that go with the
trade'.

- --j.

- ------- Forwarded Message

 From another list....


http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=2287208

THIS summer, a small white pill appeared in nightclubs and at music
festivals. It looked like Ecstasy, but as the £10 price tag hinted,
it was something else: 2C-I, a newer and more potent hallucinogen.
Psychonauts (early adopters, in square-speak) quickly seized on the
drug, and others are expected to follow. In October, the National
Criminal Intelligence Service alerted police forces to a rising
threat. Perhaps more significantly, Mixmag, a clubbers' magazine,
pronounced 2C-I "a national mash-up waiting to happen".

The timing is certainly fortuitous. Boredom and rising tolerance
have done for Ecstasy, the 1990s club drug of choice, what stern
warnings could not do. Last week, a Home Office survey found that
only 2.6% of 16 to 24-year-olds had used it in the past month; a
year ago, 3.6% had.

Worse, from the dealers' point of view, prices of Ecstasy tablets
have fallen from more than £20 in the late 1980s to £4 or less
today. Profit margins have shrunk to as little as a pound a pill,
which hardly justifies the opprobrium and long prison sentences that
go with the trade. Mat Southwell, of the Dance Drugs Alliance, a
hedonists' advocacy group, says that many dealers now see Ecstasy as
a means of keeping customers, nothing more. Some have begun to push
cocaine, although that is a paraphernalia-filled business unsuited
to the club market. Dealers would prefer something that is both easy
to take and profitable, which is where the new pills come in.

In some ways, the drug market would seem to favour new entrants like
2C-I. Manufacturing know-how is widely available, thanks in part to
a Californian chemist, Alexander Shulgin, who puts new recipes into
the public domain, together with tasting notes ("my conversations
were incredibly clear and insightful," he says of his 2C-I
experiment). Fierce competition among producers, importers and
dealers means that products can be brought to market cheaply. And
there are armies of early adopters to spread the word.

The problem, as with all illicit products, is quality control. When
Ecstasy first appeared, it was branded with symbols which inspired
some trust. But factories soon began putting the same symbols on
amphetamines and caffeine tablets. Pill-poppers have responded to
this problem partly by putting faith in dealers (not always a
reliable source of information), and partly by lowering
expectations. James Fitchett, a Nottingham marketing expert, says
that teenage Ecstasy users will sooner concoct personal explanations
for bad experiences than blame a beloved product.

All of which explains why new drugs are slow to catch on, and slow
to be discarded. The successful ones are valued not so much for
their chemical properties, but for their associations with new ways
of going out. For a new product to succeed, it will need amenable
venues, distinctive fashions, and new music -- preferably stuff that
outsiders find intolerable.


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