18 Jul It’s Definitely Not Just A Joint Campaign

Weeks like this don’t come along very often.

Warrington is a town in Cheshire, straddling the Mersey. On Tuesday of this week its Borough Council announced a new anti cannabis campaign called “It’s not just a joint”, designed to warn the population of the terrible dangers posed by this terrible killer drug

Warrington BC's anti cannabis campign One of the posters from the “It’s not just a joint” camapaign

Take a moment and have a look at this poster, it really is a classic from the reefer madness killer weed school of drug education. It’s the largest copy available now (edit 20th July – large version here) – you’ll soon learn why if you don’t already know – so if you’re having trouble reading it, this is what it says:

“Cannabis can now be stronger than heroin and cannabis related crime is now the most common drug related crime in Warrington.”

The joint image is made up of words – “Slow thinking”, “bloodshot eyes”,”hallucinations”,”lung cancer”, “depression”, “paranoia” – you get the idea of what this exercise was all about.

Cllr Pat WrightThe hapless Councillor Pat Wright, the council’s executive member for health and wellbeing, went like a lamb to the slaughter to the local press a day early to announce the new campaign. She said

“Cannabis is much stronger today than it has ever been and there has been an increase in cannabis-related crime. We need to make people aware of this.”

and

“Our campaign sets out to illustrate the serious dangers related to the use of cannabis. The artwork depicts problems commonly caused by cannabis, including mental health issues, lung cancer, memory loss, panic attacks, paranoia, slow thinking and hallucinations. Many of these symptoms can often initially be ‘unseen’ or obscure but cannabis use is demonstrably causing significant harm to residents in Warrington.”

They had it all ready to go, the posters are printed and a vast (undisclosed) amount of public money has been spent.

Now the first and most obvious question to ask is didn’t anyone check the claims being made? It seems not, but to make statement like “cannabis is stronger than heroin” is not only really stupidly wrong on so many levels, it’s also a red flag to a bull for anyone even remotely interested in cannabis. In a way it was all a bit too easy, it offered the widest open door target for everyone fed up with the stream of official garbage constantly hurled at cannabis users and this time we hit back. Lots of us did, en mass.

As James Collins wrote on NORML-UK

“Have you heard? The crack team of scientists employed by Warrington Council has now declared that modern cannabis is stronger than heroin! You can throw out your pipes and vaporisers and go find yourself a nice dirty, used needle to start shooting your cannabis with.”

Which to be fair makes a good point in a justifiably sarcastic way – if this comparison isn’t actually telling people heroin is safer than cannabis it’s a reasonable conclusion to draw from the claim, but more likely it would simply not be believed and because of it any good information will also likely not be believed and that, of course, is the danger of such bad information.

For the record the claim that “cannabis is stronger than heroin” is simply worse than meaningless, the two drugs have nothing in common apart from the fact the government treats them the same. A gram of heroin can kill a novice user, no amount of cannabis can do that.

Now even those of us who dislike Facebook with a passion will accept that for times like this it makes a useful tool for giving feedback and suddenly the Warrington BC Facebook page lit up with unwanted feedback. Some familiar names were there but they were by no means the only contributors, in the space of a few hours well over 100 comments had been added and the thread was taken offline.

As this was going down, Peter Reynolds of CLEAR got on the phone and spoke to the PA of the CEO of Warrington BC and he made it very clear that we would be mounting a challenge to the claims made in the campaign. This was followed up by a conversation with one of the local Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT). I also wrote to the head of the DAAT making a formal complaint and I dare say quite a few other people did similarly. By early evening the campaign page on the website had been changed to announce the campaign was suspended. When this happened initially just the heroin claim was removed, the claim that cannabis causes the most drug related crime was still there, but that’s gone as well now and the page just says

“Uncertainty has arisen regarding some of the statistical data supporting the campaign. In the interests of ensuring robustness, we have decided to review the campaign.”

I find this choice of words embarrassingly funny personally. One can imagine the emergency meeting that was called first thing Wednesday morning – tables were thumped, faces were red and voices raised as a campaign which has probably taken a huge chunk of the DAAT funding for this year was scrapped on the very day it was to have been unveiled. This form of words was the best they could come up with and so far they have said nothing else. Now of course what they should do is announce a shake up of their DAAT team. They should immediately announce who was responsible for the drafting of the campaign and who approved it. At the very least, the person who approved it should be sacked. They should also apologise to the people of Warrington for having planned to run a campaign of deliberate misinformation.

Let’s be clear about this, we do need good drugs education so that people can be informed – but not just about the things the government wants to make us believe, but about the reality and about the causes of the problems. There is a lot of crime – nasty crime – associated with cannabis. It’s not of course associated with the use of cannabis, but with the illegal supply side. There are turf wars, some very dubious people running less than safe grow farms and on Merseyside even gun violence with people getting shot, this is serious. Now no-one would think of blaming beer for the rise of Al Capone in 1920’s America, yet the mob then was created by the exact same policy that’s created the problems around cannabis supply. Just about all – if not actually all – of the problems “caused by cannabis” are in fact caused by the prohibition of it. See the rest of this site or indeed much of Google for more on that.

From “our” side though, this has been a marvelous week for cannabis law reform campaigners. It’s shown what we can do if we pull in the same direction. This past year has been fractious for the cannabis law reform campaign and there’s no doubt it’s held us back a hell of a lot. I hope this small victory will concentrate minds and make people realise we actually on the same side. As someone wrote in a facebook thread today

“Even if you hate your neighbour in the trenches, the time for recrimination is after the battle has been won – not while it is going on.”

Perhaps this can be the start of something big. So to all the people from CLEAR, NORML-UK supporters, the cannabis social clubs and everyone whether connected with a cannabis campaign or not who had an input into this whirlwind bit of direct action – a huge communal thank you for doing what you did. Together we won a significant battle. All of us did.