Drugs 'deck of cards' mocks inhaling politicians
Charity's controversial Nice People Take Drugs campaign enters second phase with website quoting 'hypocritical' politicians, from George Bush to Barack Obama, on their own drug use
From former presidents to serving ministers, politicians around the world have today found themselves the butt of a web campaign skewering them as hypocrites for advocating a zero tolerance approach to drugs despite having used drugs in the past.
The online "deck of cards" pillories public figures such as Bill Clinton and chancellor Alistair Darling while encouraging web users to volunteer their own "hypocrites" with accompanying quotes to complete the set. The device is a tactic to draw attention to World Anti-Drugs Day and is the latest phase in the Nice People Take Drugs campaign from the UK charity Release, which sparked controversy earlier this month.
Two weeks ago, the charity saw its advertisements, which read "Nice people take drugs", removed from buses in London because the bus company was worried they might offend some members of the public, prompting charges of censorship.
David Cameron's card from the deck. Photograph: Release
The web campaign is likely to be no less controversial. British politicians in the deck are headed by David Cameron, the Tory leader, who is quoted as saying: "I did lots of things before I came in to politics which I shouldn't have done," and the former Europe minister Caroline Flint, with the more straightforward declaration: "I took cannabis 20 years ago."
Top of the pack is former US president George W Bush as the "joker", whose quote reads: "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried." In contrast, the incumbent US president, Barack Obama, is characteristically less convoluted: "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. I inhaled frequently. That was the point."
Also among the US contingent are the firebrand Republican Newt Gingrich, who reportedly said: "When I smoked pot it was illegal but not immoral. Now it is illegal and immoral. The law didn't change, only the morality. That's why you get to go to jail and I don't."
Sebastian Saville, the chief executive of Release, said the interactive web tool was a novel approach but with serious undertones.
"We developed the deck of cards specifically to show the hypocrisy of politicians who talk about their sterling efforts in the fight against drugs when so many of them have taken drugs themselves," Saville said. "The UK public are now well aware that politicians appear to live by their own special rules in many areas – we felt it was time to add drug use to the list.
"Many people, including these politicians, have used drugs and have come to no harm but this is mainly because they were not caught doing it."
He added: "Their careers did not suffer, yet they continue to support a regime that results in thousands of often less privileged people being condemned to marginalisation, incarceration and permanent disadvantage due to personal drug use."
The intention is to also to shine a spotlight on the broader punitive impact of individual countries' drugs policies around the world, Saville said. "We felt it particularly important to highlight these issues this week, as those who enforce the current drug regime justify and celebrate World Anti-Drugs Day. The awful consequences of ill-conceived policies can no longer be call 'unintended'."
The salvos fired by the campaign are small-scale but they come at a time when there has been considerable momentum for reform within global drugs policy circles.
On Wednesday this week, Antonio Maria Costa, director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, unexpectedly called for universal access to drug treatment, saying: "People who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution."
The comment is likely to be seen as an explicit shift toward defining drugs issues in terms of health and not criminality. It was preceded in February by an unprecedented call for the decriminalisation of drug users by Michel Kazatchkine, head of the influential Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.