The drugs do work – for a lot of people

By Synesthesiac · Jun 4, 2009 · ·
  1. Synesthesiac
    The drugs do work – for a lot of people

    One in three adults in the UK have taken them, as have the last three US presidents, so it's time to remove the stigma around drugs, and talk openly towards more effective, safer policy

    The Nice People Take Drugs ad campaign for drugs policy reform. Photograph: Release

    Nice People Take Drugs – it's not a controversial statement. We all know people who have. The last three US presidents have admitted to it. Much has been suggested about the likely next UK prime minister. Nowadays if a politician admitted to it, the tabloids would struggle to make a story stick let alone generate a scandal. The fact is, a lot of people from all walks of life have at some point taken drugs and it's time we got real about it.
    That's why this week we have launched a new campaign called Nice People Take Drugs. Buses will be travelling across London carrying this slogan in an attempt to get people talking about drugs and kickstart a drug policy debate.

    Over one third of the adult population of England and Wales has used illegal drugs and almost 10 million people have smoked cannabis. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, one in eight Britons under 35 has taken cocaine. Some will have experimented with drugs with little apparent consequence, some will continue to use them on occasions.

    The situation where people have to deny, hide or, if found out, regret their drug taking is simply absurd. The public is tired of the artificial representation of drugs in society, which is not truthful about the fact that all sorts of people use drugs. If we are to have a fair and effective drug policy, it must be premised on this reality.

    It is time for the public to challenge the mantra adhered to by politicians and much of the media that society must continue to fight a war on drugs, as if they are an enemy worth fighting and ones that can be defeated. The implication that drugs are evil and that users of them ought to be made to feel ashamed suits this status quo, but in fact does not reflect most people's experience of drugs.

    We all know that, for a minority, drugs and alcohol can have disastrous consequences – but ones that are only exacerbated by the current laws and are better addressed with robust and comprehensive public health campaigns.

    Aside from the occasional tinkering with the outdated classification system, drugs and drug policy do not get properly discussed and politicians are afraid to debate the possibility of meaningful reform.

    The government is reluctant to tackle the subject firstly because of the culture of fear of drugs that is used as justification for the zero-tolerance approach, and also due to politicians' uncertainty about how to make the transition from failed to improved drug policies.

    The Nice People Take Drugs campaign is needed so that the public can give politicians the confidence that they need to abandon the ridiculous 'tough on drugs' stance and instead focus on finding real and effective ways to properly control drugs and manage drug use. This would make drugs much less dangerous and, critically, less available to children.
    The current system has brought us powerful drugs like crack cocaine, skunk and methamphetamine; it has ravaged countries from Afghanistan to Colombia and has cost billions in a war on people who use drugs.

    Governments have next to no control over drugs and they are arguably more available and cheaper than ever before. In the UK it is often far easier for a 14-year-old to get cannabis than alcohol.

    Breaking the taboo on drugs is the first step to reducing the harm that they can cause. By far the greatest risk to the majority of people who use drugs is criminalisation and stigmatisation. To simply ban substances and arrest those who use them is no more than a complete abdication of policy makers' responsibility to protect the health and well being of its people.
    We must start a debate about the kind of drug policy that this country wants to see. The UK does not want drug laws that benefit massive drug cartels and are politically convenient for politicians, but ones that deal effectively and maturely with drugs and make our society a safer place for our children.

    The Guardian:

    Claudia Rubin is head of policy and communications for drugs charity Release

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  1. Rightnow289
    [h1]So what if nice people take drugs?[/h1]
    A simplistic advertising campaign masks the corrosive, corrupting nature of narcotics

    Yesterday afternoon, I met Release's spokeswoman Claudia Rubin outside Old Street station in London. In a perfect piece of vehicular choreography, the first bus to veer past us at the roundabout bore the slogan "Nice People Take Drugs", the phrase Rubin coined for Release's latest campaign to kickstart a drug-policy debate.
    The advert's minimalist design was, she told me, inspired by the atheist bus campaign which caused such a stir last year. Release's version dispenses with pictures or logos, relying instead on bold, orange lettering to convey the four-word mantra to street level. As marketing strategies go, it is a stroke of genius – guaranteed to achieve maximum impact, and luring viewers towards Release's website to pique their curiosity.
    However, the brilliance of the way the message is marketed does not automatically render brilliant the message itself. The intention behind the campaign is to attempt to break the societal taboo on drugs. According to Release, "the public is tired of the artificial representation of drugs in society" – informing passers-by that "nice people take drugs" will help "de-stigmatise drug use", says Rubin.
    Which is all well and good, but the fact that "nice" people have their faults doesn't mean that their failings should be decriminalised and tolerated by everyone else. Nice people also break the speed limit, download pirated music, and commit any number of apparently minor misdemeanours, but the law isn't meant to bend to accommodate such immoral behaviour just because a critical mass of people partake in a certain activity.
    Defining what makes a nice person is, of course, an utterly subjective matter – as Release knows full well – as is determining at what point a person's misdeeds turn them from nice to nasty. On one level Release is right: Rubin and I have been friends since we were 12, and the circles in which we mixed would definitely have passed the "nice" test, despite the vast majority of us having done drugs throughout our teenage years.
    That we all came, saw and conquered our own mini-addictions and vices without turning to crime or violence is testament to our triumph over temptation, but to pass off our drug use as simply part and parcel of life is to gloss over the darker side of our experiences. Using drugs as an escape route, or a quick fix to our problems, was not a "nice" way to behave. Implying that drug abuse is socially acceptable, as Release are doing via their adverts, is not a noble message to hurl at impressionable children and teenagers who are unable to spot the nuance and meaning behind the stark sloganeering.
    To claim, simplistically, that "nice people take drugs" masks the corrosive, corrupting nature of narcotics, as well as the underlying void they fill in users' lives. The desire to get wasted – to blot out reality and allow substances to numb one's senses to the present – is a desperate urge, and one which has held vast swaths of society in a vice-like grip since time immemorial. Ridding people of that impulse would do wonders for both their mental and physical health; bowing to so-called public demand and sugar-coating the truth about the dangers of drugs simply passes off as acceptable a wholly insidious behavioural streak.
    Release believes that "the current [proscriptive] system has brought us powerful drugs like crack cocaine, skunk, and methamphetamine", suggesting that the ban on the underlying narcotics has prompted cartels to invent stronger and deadlier variants of the original product. Such a theory is backwards: the demand for more potent strains is what spurs suppliers into action, not the other way round. I smoked skunk with my friends to achieve a deeper and darker haze: the legal status of cannabis was neither here nor there, just as those addicted to high-grade whisky or vodka couldn't care less whether or not 3% lager is authorised for sale or not.
    Addiction is a disease that affects tens of thousands of people in every generation. Allowing greater access to drugs will, as with alcohol and tobacco, only put more vulnerable citizens in temptation's way – which neither Release nor anyone else should want to happen. Just as speeding laws shouldn't be changed despite their impact on those drivers able to safely handle a car at 100mph, so too must drugs remain illegal to prevent risking the lives of the majority of the population.
    Of the four words in Release's advert, two leave too much open to interpretation: "nice" and "drugs". "Good people smoke crack" would be a far more blunt and direct way to make the same point, but whether their message would be so blithely tolerated by the advertising authorities or the public is another matter – highlighting the essential error of drugs campaigning in the first place.

    B Seh Freedman
    The Guardian
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