20 Dec Throwing the sloth out with the bathwater

You’ve probably heard about this by now and for good reason. The latest anti cannabis campaign – this time a classic from down under in New South Wales, Australia – has been greeted with widespread ridicule around the world. The ill-advised campaign is called “Stoner Sloth” and has its own supporting website which you can see here. It’s not easy to find on Google because the search term “Stoner sloth” brings up so many other sites making fun of the campaign. It will probably be taken down soon and consigned to the ever growing pile of failed prohibition campaigns, such is the widespread ridicule it caused. What isn’t as widely discussed is the way this stupid campaign has undermined an important message about responsible use.

At the core of the campaign is a series of TV ad videos, this is a compilation of all three:

Stoner Sloth TV campaign

The aim of the campaign is about as subtle as bong water, smoking cannabis turns you into a large hairy animal with very long fingernails. Actually the idea is to paint cannabis users as slow, spaced out and away with the fairies and to give the impression that yoof find such an idea very off putting. Interestingly the third advert – the one set in a party – shows young people drinking from plastic cups. This is the way Australian kids drink alcohol apparently, so the message this one puts out is not only wrong, but even more stupid; that alcohol drinking is a fine and totally socially acceptable thing for young people to be doing.

The Sloth campaign illustrates something important about prohibition campaigns in general, they can never talk directly to the people they want to influence. Instead they rely on trying to build a mindset in everyone else that these people are in some way undesirable and contemptuous. This is totally the wrong approach, an education campaign needs to talk to the people it wants to influence and in order to do that it has to appeal to these people. Mocking the people you want to influence isn’t going to get you anywhere.

This campaign is so bad that even NCIPC – the Australian ‘National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre“, the Aus equivalent of Talk to Frank run by the rabid prohibitionist Jan Copeland wants nothing to do with it. What it has done though is to again raise the profile of the cannabis law reform debate, the very thing it didn’t intend to do, which is good.

Stoner Sloth T shirtStoner Sloth T shirts already on sale

At the risk of rubbing the salt into wounds of this gift to the legalisation movement yet further however, it is worth reflecting on how the desire to promote prohibition values has undermined what could have been an important message. Just to make it clear, the Stoner Sloth campaign is idiotic and rightly mocked, but that said there is an issue around some people using drugs in inappropriate ways and in inappropriate places. It’s not just cannabis of course, but to be fair inappropriate cannabis use is the drug issue that crops up rather a lot in schools, colleges and the workplace. But yes, other drugs are available which have different and often worse effects.

Anyone who has ever had to work with someone who went out at break and got stoned will know the problem, in a way the sloth image isn’t too far from the truth. Very stoned people are indeed away with the fairies, unresponsive and withdrawn. In the right place that’s fine but in the wrong place It is disruptive for those trying to interact with them and may well be dangerous. I know from direct experience of trying to teach stoned teenagers that this is a real issue in schools and colleges and also from having had to deal with a very stoned electrician on one occasion. But this is the important point to make; what this daft campaign should have been is an effort to educate people about inappropriate use of cannabis, or to put it in a way that prohibitionists would utterly recoil from, how to use cannabis responsibly. This includes a discussion around age of use, but more importantly time and place of use. Getting stoned at a party is fine, getting stoned before trying to wire up a three phase electrical supply isn’t. Again, before anyone jumps, yes this is a point about drug use in general, not just cannabis, but it does apply to cannabis. Thing is this campaign and the well deserved ridicule it created has done much to undermine what should be an important message, one which isn’t being given.

The problem is prohibitionists would never allow a campaign aimed at responsible use, it flies in the face of the “drugs are bad” message which is sacrosanct and must never be challenged. Under the war on drugs mantra all use is abuse, all use is destructive and in particular cannabis use must be demonised because it’s the biggest threat to the prohibition regime. That’s how Stoner Sloth came into being.

An amusing footnote. For those who thought this sorry mess couldn’t get worse, the website URL is  http://www.stonersloth.com.au which is almost identical to http://www.stonersloth.com. Seriously you couldn’t make it up if you tried really really hard.

Derek Williams