"Is Skunk our crack, our cOINTELPRO?"
The taboo subject of skunk and its devastating impact on our communities
*By Sukant Chandan
Sons of Malcolm
31 December 2012
In my mid teens some time around 1995 I was at a house party of a close friend who was in my year group in high school. He had a younger sister one year below us who invited her friends to her place for the party. I remember it was the time that Hip-Hop took a spiritual and ethical nose dive as Dr Dre and Snoop's 'Doggystyle' album was playing on repeat. At the party the younger sister's friends had a running beef with her older brothers and some of my friends who were at the party. The beef was kind of serious for our age, involving such incidents as one group trying to run the other group over with a van at the school playing fields, and fights with chains etc. No guns or knives were generally used in school fights in those days. However, at this party the younger group of friends went into the kitchen and brought out big knives to attack the older group. The younger sister freaked out, the guys took it outside, and somehow and thank God no one was hurt.
By this time in my life I knew through Reggae culture and some eastern cultures especially my own South Asian culture that Marijuana use was linked to being at least chilled out if not a means to accentuate spiritual nourishment. I remember thinking at the time, all these guys were heavily smoking Marijuana, how come after being so high on this stuff could they be so enthusiastically up for stabbing each other? A few years ago someone came to read my gas meter, and it turned out to be one of the leading guys from the younger group. We had a very friendly chat and critically referenced the high school nonsense. Often high school dramas fade away in your late teens, however, these days I am not sure high school dramas involving deaths and critical injuries can fade so quickly.
There were other incidents of violence when high on smoking 'weed' between my peers and it remained a constant thought in my head why they are conducting violence while being high or stoned. While some of my peers must have also been taking cocaine, which makes a person intensely arrogant and obnoxious, the fact was that these violent incidents involving weed smoking by the perpetrators was actually Skunk Marijuana (also often called 'punk' and 'cheese' amongst other names).
I am in no way solely blaming Skunk for this violence, as it is also related to other social problems such as the failure of our education system, the constant promotion of self-hating violence by the white power structure. But rather than helping my peers to chill and reflect in a positive way about anything in life, Skunk seemed to be feeding the negativity. In all honesty I didn't give it much thought beyond the low lying question about it in my mind.
Through university I remember that once having smoked Skunk political discussions were nearly impossible to have because people were so much more irritable and impatient while high off Skunk. I also remember the terrible grogginess and irritability the next day from the previous night of people having smoked it.
Soon into the 2000s it was clear just from my own observations, reading the media, and speaking to people that Skunk production within this country was sky rocketing, and by the end of the 1990s people seemed to be increasingly turning to Skunk as the main type of Marijuana to consume.
It has been a good twenty years since 'Skunk' or high grade marijuana has been introduced on a wide scale throughout Britain. Skunk is a generic word pointing to different genetically modified strains of marijuana that are grown in intense conditions of light and air conditioning (extractor fans essentially) and is a very expensive marijuana as a result, around double or more the price of more 'natural' strains of the plant. There are plenty of stories of bags of Skunk being sold with glass dust added to add more weight to the sale. Glass dust inhaled by people into their lungs is a highly dangerous thing.
Skunk is now the main type of marijuana smoked by people, youth and children in this country. You may not have noticed, but Skunk has been smoked around you on your high streets, in the park etc. Those aware of the smell of Skunk will smell it regularly in inner city areas and large towns.
Marijuana use has taken place since ancient times. The effect of Marijuana accentuates the senses, and depending on the type of Marijuana one consumes (usually through smoking, and more rarely by ingesting often in cakes and other foods) it can either be a general mind opening effect ('up'), or mind closing effect ('down'), but in general the use of Marijuana has been used historically to heighten spirituality and is not known to directly cause death. It is widely used by Yogis and Saadhu's (religious men who give up all material possessions and dedicate their lives to spirituality) and in some religious festivals in South Asia, mainly through being infused with the South Asian yogurt drink - lassi. There is even an Indian cinema song which playfully shows its use at one such festival. It is said by some historians that Marijuana was introduced to the Caribbean by South Asians, where many Rastafarians who introduced it into their faith took it up in a spiritual framework.
In stereotyped and prejudicial modern understanding, Marijuana users are 'dopey', epitomised by the 'Cheech and Chong' movies, it is associated with silly jokes, laziness and stupidity. It is also illegal in most countries in the world, although often seen as not as serious as other harder drugs such as heroin, crack, opium etc.
After nearly two decades of low-level critical reflection on Skunk, I started in the last year or so to really focus on the problematics of the industry, and the consumption of it and the impact it is having on our communities. We now have a generation in their mid and late twenties who if they have smoked Skunk, have done so from their early teens or even from the ages of 10, 11 and 12. I remember doing some political work in Leicester in 2003 on an all white working class estate and I came across three boys, not older than 13, who were smoking Skunk openly in the daylight hours.
It is a kind of taboo in our culture, including in 'conscious', progressive and anti-imperialist circles to critically discuss the possible negative effects on Skunk and its industry. But there have been too many signs that Skunk compounded with many other oppressions in our society is leading and has led to some very disastrous consequences.
Even more recently in the last several months for the first time in my life I started discussing the Skunk phenomenon with people. The responses surprised me, I would say pleasantly surprised me, but the subject matter is too grave for me to be happy in any way to what I have heard.
I heard of a drug dealer who has been working in this field for nearly two decades. He never sells Skunk, but he does sell the more 'natural' strains of 'Thai' and 'Bush' etc. His story is that he tried to do business with Skunk years ago and within days he had rival businesses coming attack him with guns. He went back to the selling the more natural strains.
I have heard about another brother who was a tough street fighter through the late 1970s and 1980s in his youth who commanded a lot of respect in his area and throughout London and England, and who turned to revolutionary struggle by the early 1980s. He smoked then and still smokes Jamaican marijuana (commonly known as 'yard food'), which is nearly as strong as Skunk, but has comparatively little to no adverse psychological effects. He took up smoking Skunk for a short time, and he recounted that while he was high on Skunk every important decision he made was the wrong decision in the circumstances and got him into some quite serious situations. He gave it up within days of smoking it.
I then raised this issue on twitter a few months ago. Somewhat to my surprise a few brothers and sisters around my age tweeted back in agreement with some of the things I was saying. One brother said "skunk is our crack". I am into plain militant speaking, but this comment was surprising, pushing the brother to explain a bit more he argued that the impact of Skunk amongst generations of our youth and in our community is the equivalent in some ways of the way the usa white power structure introduced crack cocaine into Black communities to sabotage the revolutionary organisations and struggles there, destroy and criminalise working class and Black youth and turn the community in on itself in violent self hate and escalating mental health problems.
The timing of the rise of the Skunk industry and mass consumption is interesting. It has become predominant at exactly the same time Black and Asian and working class communities radical and grassroots organisations and movement subsided and were defeated. The multifaceted offensive against us since the early 1990s, including Skunk, has meant not only have we not recovered and re-developed our struggle to face the worse socio-economic and cultural and moral situation that we are facing, but we have continued to be pushed down as oppressed peoples. The british white power structure is no doubt greatly relieved that we did not develop any effective resistance organisations after the militant struggles, the last of which was the mass campaign of resistance against police brutality and white supremacist attacks around the Justice for Stephen Lawrence Campaign. Is Skunk a central part of our own cointelpro?
The COINTELPRO fbi program in the usa most definitely has its own mirror reflections in our communities here. The problem is that no one does the work of analysing this and pushing it out for debate amongst us.
There is a long history of how the ruling classes in Britain and across the west have used different drugs and drug mafias to contain and oppress working class and Black communities within the 'west' and across the world. These are issues and histories seldom discussed by us, but they pertain to imperialist oppression abroad and how it directly has a fall out in working class communities on this island.
Another sister talked/tweeted about how habitual and prolonged Skunk consumption had resulted in her actual sister having schizophrenia. The fact is that all of us know someone who has become paranoid to some extent, paranoid delusional or developed schizophrenia with different drugs but very much Skunk being a clear contributory factor in this.
We are talking about our peers, often our close friends and loved ones having serious mental health problems that can and do result in these people being sectioned and suicide is not tragically unheard of.
There is little solid research that gives one clear answers as to why Skunk such an adverse impact on peoples mental health. Some say it is the unbalanced 'cannabinoids' in Skunk which causes this. The medical research is not clear, but I would argue that if we collectivise the data that we all know about ourselves and our peers who are suffering from frequent and long term Skunk use, the evidence is rather clear to see. The fact that there is such little conclusive nor frankly helpful medical research on something which is having such a wide ranging negative fall out on us, to me points to a greater agenda of the white power structure to introduce Skunk to oppress our communities, and it is doing a great job in that regard.
Around 3 years ago I was walking near my area in a middle class part of my town, the police had made a drugs raid on a middle class looking semi detached house and found seven large bags of Skunk marijuana plants. I asked the senior police why he wasn't clamping down on the crack dens and heroin and crack dealers known to all the residents on the local estate not 5mins walk away, as per usual the senior policeman got aggressively defensive. Skunk production on this island, or the spread of 'homegrown' industry has rocketed in the last decade or so. For poor working class people setting up a Skunk factory is a commercial venture not far from their means and the returns are lucrative. What this does is criminalise vast new swathes of our people, and also bring develop a criminal mafia in our communities, as most of the production is done by larger organised crime outfits. And a related major issue is that because Skunk/weed possession is so high amongst our youth, they tend to be easy prey for police harassment.
How do our youth manage to afford to spend so much on Skunk. For a reasonably strong single cigarette or 'spliff' of Skunk mixed usually with tobacco (usually cigarette tobacco, which is full of chemicals, and without the soft filter full of tar), you are looking at easily three or four pounds, with many packing their spliffs a lot more than that thus making the one spliff a lot more expensive. Skunk is highly addictive or at least something which one can become easily dependent on (if you don't believe me, try and get a regular Skunk smoker to give it up), with the user chasing the highs they first felt when starting Skunk, but that high is unattainable, hence sending the user into a futile race to reach a high they never can achieve.
Many people in our communities argue that the expensive nature of the product and its addictive qualities has meant a general growth in criminal activities amongst our youth who think they have to engage in this criminal life to survive: this has resulted in a noticeable increase in the amount of degree of violence amongst young people and amongst crime amongst our youth. Often our working class youth are used as peddlers for Skunk and other harder drugs by older drug dealers. Then net resut is that the nightmare scenarios of A Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies is a very present reality in our communities where our children are killing each other with no sign of us putting things in order. This is a problem that our communities have been unable to address, although some Irish working class communities have taken independent action to address these issues, with some measures of success which is worth studying and learning and applying the lessons to our conditions.
We have a disastrous situation where generations of our youth have been and are starting to smoke Skunk from pre teens; they are growing up in an oppressive society often with deteriorating social conditions such as:
- violent domestic situations caused by overcrowding, unemployment/underemployment; they are increasingly alienated by the system while assimilating into some of the worst moral and ethical aspects of the system such as a negative sexualisation of relationships with each other as a result of 'sex education' primarily happening through exposure to hard core porn from pre teens (this in itself is causing a massive un-addressed crisis amongst our youth);
- oppression from and failures of the 'education' system with bullying and violence rampant throughout our high schools;
- the disapearnce of liberation theories used by Latin Americans, Africans and Asians for socialist and anti-imperialist liberation and this being replaced by the growth of crack-pot conspiracy theories like "Beyonce is the reptilian devil head who is spewing out chem trails from her dance moves which resulted in the 911 attacks", is promoting the danger of paranoid delusions amongst our peers as they drink, smoke, take drugs, are in a state of oppression and often depression and spend many a night watching crack-pot youtube videos that doesn't help their mental health;
- white power structure oppression resulting in our youth moving away from positively healing spirituality and ethics of our ancestors, families and communities of the homelands in the Global South.
All these issues along with the violent and paranoid state of mind that Skunk and mass use of cocaine and other drugs amongst our youth needs some serious debate and reflection.
The reason I suppose I have honed in on Skunk consumption and industry is because it has become nearly an untouchable issue, it seems to be beyond criticism. People who I can visibly see are suffering as a result of Skunk use keep telling you that it is not a problem at all. Perhaps this is a reflection itself of the way Skunk addiction has informed the taboo nature of the topic? Whatever the case might be, this article would is intended in sparking (excuse the pun) a reasoned and mutually respectful public debate amongst ourselves.
Why don't we take stock of the multifaceted problems we are facing? The near absence of debate on these important issues, the near absence of any grassroots initiatives is worrying, already too many of our loved ones have been taken to the grave or into state mental institutions, while many more are suffering in silence and deepening their dependency on alcohol and drugs to numb the pain they/we feel.
*An edited version of this article will be going into the next edition of I am Hip-Hop Magazine, and serves as a contribution to a wider discussion which will also include a possible joint event between Sons of Malcolm and I am Hip-Hop Magazine in the very near future.