“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results”
We stand amidst great shifts in public opinion and support when it comes to legalising the sale and possession of cannabis, yet we face an impasse when it comes to UK law, or more accurately, those in charge of it. It seems as if no matter what we do, no matter how many famous people support our cause, no matter how many experts proclaim prohibition a failure… we’re left in the same place. There are definite gains being made in terms of getting support from those who’re generally liberal or under the age of 40, but resistance remains from others. Maybe we’re expecting too much too soon, but each moment the law remains as it is we see more people sent to prison, more medical patients criminalised, and more children exposed to the criminal underworld.
But what can we do to ensure politicians and the conservative media (along with its consumers) can’t dodge reality? How can we make our voices heard and force politicians to not just listen to us, but openly display support, and pursue changes in the law? Right now we’re at the whim of committees and investigations, the outcomes of which will be irrelevant if the government doesn’t want to be seen as soft on drugs. At last week’s installment of the HASC drugs inquiry, Ken Clarke claimed that despite the war on drugs being a failure, he couldn’t even begin to contemplate regulated sales. And this is from somebody who’s extremely well-educated, and consistently voted in to one of the most powerful positions in the country. They’re clearly not unintelligent people, but they fear the implications of change. We need to show them how failing to change things is a far more frightening prospect.
It might simply be that politicians are being pestered and threatened by nay-sayers more frequently than they are by the general public or cannabis activists, and until our side of the scales dwarfs theirs, progress will come at a very slow and incremental rate, if at all. The same is true of newspapers; if we can convince the common man that they should fear prohibition, we can imagine editors across the country being forced to change their tactics. While it’s true that newspapers tend to impress their own ideas on readers, they cannot survive in an environment where they lose the respect of their readership, who no longer believe the scaremongering.
We have two different groups to contend with, but each relies on the ignorance of the public. This gives some hope, as we can set our sights on educating those around us. This is by no means easy to contemplate as a whole, but I think we can break it down to manageable chunks, with specifics and predefined goals. They key thing is creating an environment where ideas are flying and people feel enthusiastic about being involved.
If there’s one thing cannabis consumers are good at, it’s imagining the possibilities, and if we can lay the ideas out, and take hints from other causes, then we can look at how we might move toward these goals at a faster rate. With a list of agreed tactics we could then look at how much it would cost to action these points. Even if media campaigns cost a lot of money, how about presenting a considered, likely-to-succeed case to somebody who does have access to funding? We could see some serious financial support come our way if we can show a coherent strategy. That might be a long-shot, but it seems the first logical step to take. Let’s think big and meaningful.
Reach and mobilise millions of cannabis users across the nation
How can we make use of the estimated 3-6m casual cannabis users in the UK? At present it feels like only a tiny minority are involved with social networks. I’m not sure whether they’re scared because it’s illegal, simply don’t think things can change, or perhaps they can currently acquire their favourite plant with little hassle; removing their only concern. Even as an engaged user myself, I see the odd march, with relatively few people in attendance, which doesn’t even make the news. Given the severity of the issue I’d like to see as many people out there who were against the war in Iraq. This is affecting the lives of millions of people in our own backyard, and we’re letting it happen. It’s not just recreational users; there are thousands of people who medicate with cannabis.
The numbers don’t seem to add up. We know that Facebook use is close to 50% in most developed nations, so at worst we’d expect to see a million or so UK cannabis users with Facebook access, and yet checking various pro-cannabis pages would leave you thinking that achieving a 5-figure membership is as good as it gets. So either individuals aren’t as interested in pushing for change as we are, or they haven’t been reached and had the idea sold to them. In fairness to the missing 95%, the fact I’m writing this article puts the blame squarely on our communication strategy. What if we were to build something which would inspire people to stand up and take notice?
Inform the masses of the dangers of prohibition
There’s a big slice missing, which is those who are indifferent to the situation as they have no contact with drugs. There are plenty of facts to convince this group that even if they don’t wish to consume, society would be better for having liberalised drug laws. The same people who get spooked by scaremongering headlines can also be persuaded by seeing far more worrying headlines which denounce prohibition. We can appeal to their willingness to be shocked and appalled, and channel it in the correct way. Anybody who opposes human suffering, improper spending of taxes, police ignoring serious crime in favour of petty, children having access to drugs, alcohol abuse, or drug dealers on corners, could be considered a potential recruit to our side. If it weren’t for prohibition we could have a serious debate about minimising harm.
We should frame our argument as anti-prohibition, rather than pro-cannabis. It switches the onus to the other side to show positives from their failed policy, and gives us a chance to turn attention to the dangers of making cannabis sales and possession illegal. Previously, Release managed to get a great deal of publicity with their ‘nice people do drugs‘ campaign, before that had to be pulled over fears about the wording. Is this sort of idea worth revisiting, and being used to target prohibition? Or perhaps favourably comparing cannabis to alcohol? How about directly outing Home Secretaries for the damage their anti-scientific decisions have caused? Would Theresa May feel that imprisoning cannabis smokers is the easy political option if she had to see her face on the side of banners deriding her abilities?
How about a grass roots propaganda movement involving posters and fliers across cities and towns? Not everything has to be expensive, but also expense shouldn’t rule-out any options. We could find merit in doing something very expensive, and invite donations towards making it happen. I think once people see there’s a chance to make a real difference they will be moved to support us in our efforts.
Build bridges with others
There are numerous special interest groups in the country which could benefit from a relaxation of drug laws, yet they don’t realise it. We recently saw the British Lung Foundation unfortunately take a poorly-conceived stance when it came to public health, but the fact they are interested in this topic should give us hope. Thanks to the internet we’re now just an e-mail away from contacting groups who could be swayed to our way of thinking. A charm offensive is what’s required at this stage. The danger is we simply react angrily to stories which we don’t like, instead of engaging and seeing if the opponents could be turned into allies. We should always seek out the reason why someone is in favour of prohibition, and convince them that our way would actually meet their requirements far more than the current system.
We could go so far as to get business on our side. Even within groups who seemingly oppose us, it’s very possible to find common ground, and provide reasons to give them a vested interest in being more vocal against prohibition. Who are the parties interested in future cannabis cafes? It’s set to be a billion-pound industry, so there will inevitably be commercial interest. Rather than being at the mercy of big pharma or the alcohol industry, we can seek to use business to serve our needs and lobby alongside us.
Set a good example
“Coming out” as a cannabis user is not something that everybody is comfortable with, but I don’t think the fear is necessarily justified. My experience in the workplace is that either most people engaged in drug use, had done previously, or didn’t care. And that’s only if you volunteered information about your own activities. You can campaign for anti-prohibition laws and not be a user. So you could quite easily justify your position without letting them know what you do yourself, if that’s an issue. Personally, I find that by openly admitting what I do (cannabis being the fat end of a poly-drug enjoyment wedge) it makes others think twice about dismissing drug users. Indeed, the first time I ever tried anything illicit was because I met somebody smart and doing well in life, who also happened to enjoy weed/ecstasy now and then. As they were healthy and very switched-on, I was forced to question my assumptions about drug users.
Seeing tokers consuming and still getting on with their lives is the perfect antidote to prohibitionist lies, and it will tally in their brain so in future they won’t be so quick to dismiss legalisation or people who use drugs. In any debate around dangers, always anchor the harm adjudication to alcohol and tobacco acceptance, and wanting equal consideration with those far more dangerous substances. We represent a cross-section of society which happens to smoke weed, just as some people may happen to enjoy alcohol or happen to enjoy milkshakes. There are unfortunately too many people whose only encounter with cannabis users is via newspaper headlines or other stereotypical media representations, and you miss an excellent opportunity to redress that balance when you hide what you do.
Protest and display support
If we can get a million or so anti-war protesters, why not that many for a cannabis protest or even a Facebook page? What happens after a protest? How do we systematically go about unpicking bad science from the law and freeing cannabis? Getting people familiar with various groups is the starting point, but there needs to be thought given to how they can then be used effectively. Do letters work? Do marches work? Are smart mobs more enticing? Do we need to look at significantly stronger approaches? There are people who scale the walls of Buckingham Palace for lesser causes. We don’t do anything which can’t be ignored. Should we engage in mass civil disobedience?
Are they going to throw 3 million people in prison? I want to see actions which thrust cannabis use in their faces, and challenge the absurdity by forcing their hand. What worries me at the moment is that the laws have been adjusted to imply a certain level of decriminalisation, but the police will bring the dogs out and caution you when it suits making up their arrest figures, even when you’re just on the train, going about your business. I hate this grey area, selective thinking. It’s an improvement, but it’s almost no improvement. I want to get in the faces of people and show them who we are, along the consequences of their actions.
Here’s an non-exhaustive list of things we can all do to normalise the idea of cannabis use, and push the truth about prohibition:
- Research the negatives of prohibition so you can provide a comprehensive response during debates: CC Guide, NORML, Dopecast, Professor Nutt & ENCOD
- Take a look at the most popular anti-prohibition organisations, which are currently NORML UK and CLEAR, and tell them what you want to see, or even how you can help
- Be outspoken in support of drug law reform with friends, family, and co-workers
- Join your local UK Cannabis Social Club, or set one up if it doesn’t already exist
- Introduce fellow cannabis users to the wealth of internet resources you’ve discovered
- Contact your MP, sign petitions, and be prepared to give feedback on online articles, particularly concentrating on the negatives of the status quo
Finally, here are some things I’d love to see followed-up by the nation’s biggest campaign groups:
- Think big and bold – we want to make headlines
- Investigate provocative campaigns and what’s required for them to become reality
- Request member feedback on how time and money is spent
- Provide a route for suggestions to be made and discussed
- Inspire us to unite
In order to be slightly more succinct I’ve excluded things I consider to already be underway, and instead concentrated on information campaigns and high public visibility. My newsfeed is full, every single day, of stories about people going to prison or losing their job due to laws which benefit nobody, and have no basis in reality. Do politicians face an avalanche of such stories? Do they receive sackfuls of mail? How can we ensure that they are forced to witness and answer for the fruits of their policies? The closing paragraph may seem a little late to be asking these questions, but I hope from what I’ve written you can see that there are a number of exciting areas to exploit, and so it’s a matter of asking individuals to do what they can, and hoping larger organisations can be motivational forces for change.