Chilling Out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy

Chilling Out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy

Chilling Out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy

Chilling Out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy


Erudite and wide-ranging, perceptive and provocative, lively and up-to-date - Shane Blackman has produced a book with something to offer to just about anyone interested in drugs in contemporary society. Blackman uncovers hidden histories, points out the contradictions running through media, popular culture and official policy and highlights the challenges facing us. Chilling Out is a book that will be a boon to students and a valuable resource for both teachers and researchers. Nigel South, Professor, Department of Sociology and Research Professor, Department of Health and Human Sciences, University of Essex.
  • How are drug war politics, drug prevention, popular culture and drug consumption interconnected?
  • What are the major contradictions, assumptions and silences within the moral arguments of drug policy makers?
  • What are the implications for the viability of drugs policy?
This book critically examines the assumptions underlying drug prohibition and explores the contradictions of drug prevention policies. For the first time in this field, it combines a wide-ranging exploration of the global political and historical context with a detailed focus on youth culture, on the basis that young people are the primary target of drug prevention policies.

Chilling Out provides a critical map of drugs, bringing together work on drugs as a source of political state repression and regulation of morality through medical discourse, work on drugs as cultural commodities in film, popular music, advertising and tourism, work on 'drug normalisation', subcultural deviance and the politics of drug education.

This clear and enlightening text for sociology, health and media and cultural studies courses argues for an holistic and a critical understanding of drugs in society, which can be the basis for a more coherent approach to drug control. Practitioners and policy makers will find it a thought-provoking and informative source.


Four decades ago, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Britain seemed an oasis of sanity, compared with the rest of the world, in relation to drug policy. Heroin addiction was treated as primarily a medical problem, and ‘addicts’, as they were then so described, could obtain their ‘script’ from – in principle – any general practitioner willing to take them on. the decriminalization of cannabis seemed only a matter of time, a few years at most, as the liberal elite mobilized support for some such policy. By the mid-1970s all this had changed. Those running the ‘treatment centres’, set up in designated hospitals to supersede general practice as the front line for meeting the demand for heroin, switched to oral methadone as a substitute. the Wootton Report of 1968, which had duly recommended the decriminalization of cannabis, was summarily dismissed as unworkable by an otherwise reform-minded Labour government. the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act recategorized drugs in terms of their presumed dangerousness and attached increased criminal sanctions for even the smallest amount in possession.

This recriminalization of drug use now amounted to a form of prohibition. It has proved a spectacular failure. Drug use is now a hundred-fold more prevalent than it was in the late 1960s. Drug-related crime has proved a logical corollary of the criminalization of drug supply. Violence (in relation to control of territory, debt enforcement, etc.), money laundering, the corruption of officialdom and myriad offending to finance the habit – these are the inescapable forms of debasement which accompany the criminalization of drug use. Three huge misconceptions sustain this system. the first is that we can win, indeed are winning, the War on Drugs. the crime rate is going down and the prevalence of some forms of drug use have waned. Well, if we included in the crime rate the unknowable volume of illicit drug transactions, it would long ago have climbed off the scale. and fashions in drug use, as in other forms of consumer behaviour, explain at least part of the rise and fall of particular drugs. the second fallacy is that illicit drug use and its supply are in principle much the same as any other crime. Legalize drugs and you might as well legalize burglary, car theft etc. This reductio ad absurdum, which I have heard put forward many times in defence of our drug laws, simply ignores the . . .

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