Friday, November 6, 2009

Fear and Loathing Barcelona

So I went into the city center last weekend for the first time since the infamous pickpocketing experience last spring and it's amazing what some photos of prostitutes servicing their johns in public will do - Las Ramblas was actually relatively drug dealer and hooker free at 2:00am!  Of course, there aren't less of them, the recent police sweeps simply forcing them into the alleys that run off the main thoroughfare where they now target those partying in El Raval. But, hey, at least no reporters will be taking pictures, right?

Anyway, the weekend got me thinking. I know Amsterdam has the reputation as the vice capital of Europe, but it does seem Barcelona is giving it a run for the money, perhaps even surpassing it. Walk around El Raval or El Barrio Gotico and look up at the balconies - chances are you'll see pot plants growing in plain sight just waiting to be picked during certain months. Meanwhile, on almost every corner in the city center you'll either be offered drugs or sex and the smell of hashish when strolling through the parks or plazas is not that uncommon.

Some of this has to do with the relatively lax laws as far as drugs and prostitution. It's legal to grow cannabis for personal use and prostitution isn't a crime. Is this bad? Personally, I'm an an unabashed proponent for legalization of all narcotics but as Holland shows, when this is done on a country level said country runs the risk of losing its image and identity as it becomes a haven for drug tourism. Given the fact that Barcelona is already overrun by drunken tourists behaving badly, I fear what would happen if weed and coke were added to the mix. Actually, come to think of it, maybe not herb but you get the idea.

Still, is having street mafias providing the goods any better? The quality of the product is usually crap, cut with god knows what, and the quantity is usually half what you want. The girls of the night are probably here against their will and crime is on the rise. In fact, in all the discussions about the issue, it's rare anyone brings up the human trafficking aspect, which is where the real tragedy lies.

So what to do? Other than the European Union legalizing everything, which has about as much chance of happening as an ice rink in hell, there don't seem to be many good options. I guess Spain could go the route of the US and declare war on drugs and prostitution but we've all seen how that has worked out (crystal meth, an incarceration rate of a third world country, etc.). Any suggestions?

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