The UK drugs and rights organisation Release sparked controversy in London recently, after their campaign aimed at de-stigmatising drug use was withdrawn from London buses by advertising regulators. The advertisement, featuring the deceptively simple statement ‘Nice people take drugs’, was chosen to draw attention to the way drug takers are typically demonised in the media and through drug policies.
The Guardian reports that the chief executive of Release, Sebastian Saville, stated that the withdrawal of the advert from buses was an “overreaction to a legitimate message”. He believes that “the time has come where potential leaders of our country have much to gain from real honesty about drug use in the UK, including their own drug use”. Release has also produced an animated youtube clip featuring people of all walks of life describing to their use of every manner of psychoactive drug, in an effort to humanise people who use drugs.
The truth is that a large proportion of the population (in the UK, Australia, USA, etc.) has at least tried an illegal drug, and research indicates that most people who use drugs also work, study, have families and are valued parts of our community. These facts are kept secret due to a legitimate fear of open discussion of drug use by these people, who do not want to risk their jobs and reputations over potential criminal punishment.
This situation allows politicians and the public to continue believing that ‘drugs are bad’ and anyone who uses drugs is, well, also bad, or at least, misguided and in need of treatment. It is this belief that allows continuation of the War on Drugs. If drugs are evil, there is no room to question punitive drug policies even when there is little evidence that they actually work.
I do wonder whether Nice people take drugs really captures this argument, though. There are many definitions of ‘nice’ and many definitions of ‘drugs’, and to lump all types of drug use and all types of drugs together muddies the picture. Yet, if the goal of the advertisement was to spark debate, it has certainly succeeded in spreading its message (just google ‘nice people take drugs’ and have a look for yourself!).