What is Prohibition?  A call to Reformers.

What is Prohibition? A call to Reformers.

Posted On: January 11, 2012
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Having engaged with all sides of the drug debate over the last few years, Know Drugs got to wondering how much the general public understands about the words and concepts we hear bandied about so frequently.  So we took to the streets to ask if people understand one of the very first terms you need to know when considering the status of different drugs: Prohibition.  The film shows what the public had to say.

The views in the final film are entirely representative of the people we spoke to.

The film uses only a small sample of the population but we think it raises interesting questions, particularly for those seeking to reform the drug laws.  If the general public has such little awareness of terms which are fundamental to understanding the issues surrounding drug use, how can reformers meaningfully seek to engage people in a complex debate and further expect them to take action?

Mass media has successfully shrouded the drug issue with fear and confusion.   The popular consensus still appears to be that ‘drugs are bad’ and that ‘drug users are bad’.  There is little distinction between type of drug beyond what are commonly known as ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ drugs and any talk of possible merits of certain banned substances is deemed the path to certain mass-drug taking, widespread addiction and multiple deaths.  Messages about the real harms and benefits of different drugs are completely lost.

This hysterical response makes for a good read of a tabloid newspaper and chimes with a desire deep within ourselves to protect others, but does little to address the real facts about drugs, drug use and drug misuse.

The big political parties learned long ago, that in the age of Soundbite Media, the key is to make your message simple and keep it that way.  Remember the Tories’ ‘Labour isn’t working’ and New Labour’s ‘Education Education Education’ slogans?

Admittedly, social media is allowing for greater complexity of message – but it is all too easy to mistake preaching to the converted for achieving a shift in public opinion and reaching a new audience.

Presenting solutions which might lead us out of the current mire of unjust criminalisation and imprisonment, wanton discrimination and unnecessary illness, injury and deaths is not something that can be done simply.  But drug law reformers do not do each other any favours when it comes to making such in-roads.  One wrong word and a ton of people on the ‘same side’ as you will come down on you like a ton of bricks – giving the impression that every word you’ve uttered is wrong/ill informed/misplaced or even deliberately mis-leading.  Any sound argument made is obliterated in a hail of criticism from your own ‘friends’.   Is it any wonder that in 50 years of the war on drugs (some say 40, some say 100) – the current policy stalemate has simply taken hold and stuck?

This is not to say that a lot of these nuanced arguments are not important.  The question is what is the right time and place for them?  And if we are still at a stage where the majority of the populace can’t actually tell you what Prohibition is – is tearing ourselves apart discussing for example, precise legal terms doing anything to spread the message that Prohibition isn’t Working?

My advice to reformers:  before you say anything ask yourself:

1) Is what I’m about to say constructive ?

2) Am I about to undermine someone who’s point of view I fundamentally agree with and if so can I re-word ?

3) Will this challenge do anything to further wider human understanding of the real problems around drugs and drug use or will it mainly serve to make me feel/appear more important and knowledgeable?


By Cara Lavan