Cocaine: Middle Class High

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The relative impunity with which people take coke is encouraged by the fact that judges are notoriously reluctant to hand down heavy penalties for possession. Unlike the stereotyped scruffy ghetto addict who turns to mugging or burglary to support his habit, the cocaine user may have a three-piece suit and a well-lined wallet, and probably does his sniffing indoors without becoming unruly or threatening anybody. Says a Cook County, Ill., lawman: "These people are not the dregs of society. They tend to be legitimate business people." The Fourth District Appellate Court in Illinois last March ruled that cocaine is not a narcotic and thus is mis-classified in the state's criminal code. Further, the court found "no causal connection between the ingestion of cocaine and criminal behavior." The confusion in law enforcement is compounded by the fact that many coke deals are arranged by lawyers, and lawyers and judges are prominent in the social circles that use the drug.

And so the toot goes on. In some of the better Madison Avenue offices, admen offer clients coke instead of martinis. Says one New York advertising executive: "About 75% of all the bright young Turks in the advertising business use some regularly, some occasionally, but they all use it. Spill out a couple of grams of that white stuff on the table and everyone knows where you're coming from."

Such encomiums are in keeping with the kind of raves that cocaine has enjoyed in the past. In 1885, Parke-Davis, a U.S. pharmaceutical company, promoted it as a wonder drug that would "supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent, and free the victims of alcohol and opium habit from their bondage." Sherlock Holmes, of course, injected a 7% solution to while away the days between cases. In his classic Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin snorted a white powder before taking on all challengers. Freud, who prescribed the drug for treatment of morphine addiction, stomach disorders and melancholia, wrote of getting from it "exhilaration, and lasting euphoria which in no way differed from the normal euphoria of the healthy person."

An enterprising 19th century Corsican named Angelo Mariani had the notion of blending the coca leaf with fine wine, which he marketed under the name of Vin Mariani. Mariani collected endorsements from Popes Leo XIII and Pius X, President McKinley and the Kings of Spain, Greece, and Norway and Sweden, as well as such literary luminaries as Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas and Emile Zola. French Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, designer of the Statue of Liberty, swore that if he had only savored Vin Mariani earlier, he would have built the old girl hundreds of meters higher.

Cocaine is the caviar of drugs, except that it is 70 times as costly as the finest beluga. While an eclectic consumer might feel that caviar and a bottle of Bellinger brut give a headier, cheaper and wholly licit lift to an evening, many American hedonists get more of a kick* through the nose.

Coke paraphernalia are openly displayed in "head shops" such as Washington's Pleasure Chest and Lady Snow's in Hollywood. Artifacts include gleaming jade cutting stones, gold razor blades to chop the coke crystals and tiny brown bottles for sniffing (an antique gold Tiffany snuff bottle capable of holding two grams sold for $28,000 in Beverly Hills last year to an Iranian). Items like silver and gold sniffing spoons are flaunted on chains around the users' necks. The process of spreading the coke on a table in "lines" for sniffing is as elaborate and careful as a Japanese tea ceremony — an affectation hilariously burlesqued in the 1977 film Annie Hall when Woody Allen sneezed at the wrong moment and blew away hundreds of dollars' worth of the precious powder.

In Snowblind, a 1976 study of cocaine dealing that has become something of a cult book, Robert Sabbag wrote: "Cocaine, like motorcycles, machine guns and White House politics, is, among many things, a virility substitute. Its mere possession imparts status — cocaine equals money, and money equals power. And, as if in mute imitation of its symbolism, cocaine's presence in the blood, like no other drug, accounts for a feeling of confidence that is rare in the behavioral sink of post-industrial America."

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