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The British Government on Drugs - The Frank files

Talk to Frank

Who is Frank?

Back in May 2003 the British government unveiled it's latest attempt at an anti-drugs information campaign, called "Talk to Frank". Frank is the latest in a series of anti-drug information sites set up under the "tackling drugs together" drugs policy. It's been accepted that the previous attempts weren't a success and so Frank sets out to be more honest, or at least that was the promise.

Frank claims to have finally dropped the "just say no" approach to drugs and promises to give honest factual information. Does it? On the whole, yes. Most of the information for a range of drugs Frank gives is pretty good. Frank has quite a lot to say about cannabis though, and the information it gives is compromised by the need to re-enforce the "cannabis is illegal" message.

When it first appeared, some of the information regarding cannabis was a bit dodgey, if not actually totally wrong. There have been changes but the general criticism remains. Frank still goes out of his way to avoid giving harm reduction advice or mentioning the actual cause of the issues he warns about - the dangers caused by prohibition.

Frank seems to have had a big problem trying to decide what to say about cannabis. Rather than say that moderate use will produce few if any problems for the vast majority of users, Frank warns of the possibilities of problems which can arise after long term heavy use. When it does describe the positive effects of cannabis, Frank downplays them.

Actually the cannabis section is much bigger and - to a casual reader - far more negative than for example the crack section, although of course crack is a far more dangerous drug. The information Frank gives regarding cannabis is compromised by the need to help enforce the law.

On the plus side, they no longer claim cannabis is a gateway drug - but they don't actually say it. This is the main reason which had always been quoted for cannabis being illegal. If it doesn't lead onto hard drug addiction (which we all knew it doesn't) then just why is it still illegal?

On balance, Frank's information on cannabis is little more than "spin" - something this government does a lot of. At best it's economical with the truth, at worst it's sometimes downright dangerously wrong.

The insulting stereotype
Bernie Hayzy - hey maaan...
from the 2004 "Mentor" leaflet

The Government tries to justify prohibition

UKCIA reader Jamie Gaffney asked Frank to explain why, as alcohol prohibition was such a failure in America, other drug prohibition in general is such a good idea. Eventually the Department of Health replied, but do their arguments stand up to scrutiny? Read their reply and Jamie's comments and decide for yourself

What happens if you ask Frank a question?

Shortly after Talk to Frank started, we thought we'd give it a test, so having read the information they give a student (who is under 18) sent Frank a question. See what you make of his reply here.

Previous government anti-drugs websites

As a part of it's war on drugs policy "Tackling drugs together", the British government creates websites from time to time that form a part of the "education" it wants people to have about drugs. Since Labour came to power in 1997, we've had several attempts at anti-drug website

In the beginning there was Trashed

Trashed was launched with a great fanfare by the so-called "drugs Tsar" Keith Hellawell (remember him?) The original official British government site it was aimed at children and young people. It contained information on drugs, but with a predictable "don't use" message. Somewhat confusing to use it was never updated. Trashed Tried hard to be trendy with lots of silly animated graphics.

It seems like they just gave up on Trashed

Trashed logo

Then we got D2K, which featured an animated game using flash in which you moved through a town asking people questions about drugs who you could then shoot.

D2K was a lot better than Trashed and contained information about alcohol and tobacco.

D2K logo



The Frank log

October 2011 - After a long gap Frank is relaunched:
a critique of the latest effort, it looks different but is actually much the same, but includes the unbelievable game "Spliff Pinball". here

March 2009 - Secret police tactics against Headshops

A leaked set of guidelines issued by ACPO (Association of Chief Constables) and NIDA (National Police Improvement Agency) have been published on several forums.

The guidelines include advice to look for "Posters or advertising for groups campaigning for the Legalisation of cannabis". Welcome to the police state.

Read the leaked document on our forum here.

March 2009 - Talk to Frank latest Cannabis information review. The latest version of the truth as provided by Talk to Frank, this is by far the worst yet, containing information that is just plain wrong. UKCIA critique

February 2009 - Cannabis: mess with your mind. Talk to Frank launches an "interactive" website to support the reclassification to B - UKCIA critique

January 2009 - Cannabis returned to class B against the advice of the ACMD. Cannabis users are no longer third class citizens.

December 2008 - the missing impact assessment: With cannabis about to be moved back to class B the government very quietly issues an impact assessment, hoping no-one will notice. UKCIA did!

September 2007 - Sham consultation excercise Drugs, our community, your say

The government finally gave up pretending to have an evidence based drugs policy and resorted to a PR campaign of sham consultations Drugs, our community, your say

It was billed as being one of the biggest consultations ever held, but it was a nothing of the sort.

The full consultation document contained 52 questions with free-response text boxes. 5,000 copies of this document were issued to key stakeholders throughout the country. In addition to the full document, a shorter set of seven questions was published in leaflet form, aimed at a more general public audience. 300,000 leaflets were printed and distributed through outlets such as doctors’ surgeries, libraries and police stations.

All this, including online submissions, produced a stunning 1,020 responses.

Yep, just 1,020 from a UK population of nearly 60,000,000. Unbelievable, well done HMG, you really caught the public imagination there. Sorry for the sarcasm. When it happened UKCIA called it a sham, seems we were right.

The IPSOS - Mori evaluation of this massive public consultation excercise is here (1M PDF)

August 13th - Drugs policy "cannot work"

Ex-government drugs director of the Anti-Drug Co-ordination Unit, Julian Critchley, has gone public in admiring that the drugs policy of prohibition cannot work, saying he now believes legalisation is the only way forward.

He said: "wishing drug use away was "folly" and that there was "no doubt" there would be a fall in crime as a result of legalisation.

"The argument always put forward against this is that there would be a commensurate increase in drug use as a result of legalisation," he said.

"This, it seems to me, is a bogus point: tobacco is a legal drug, whose use is declining, and precisely because it is legal, its users are far more amenable to government control, education programmes and taxation than they would be were it illegal."

BBC News story

July 2007 - Talk to Frank Cannabis information

Updated critiqe

June 2007- Cannabis explained Withdrawn

May 2007 - Cannabis explained

One of the occasional booklets issued to FRANK supporters known as "Action updates", this one was issued on May 25th.

Hard to know where to begin with this one, but it gets off to a good start with what it thinks is a picture of cannabis leaves:

picture of what Talk to 

Frank thinks cannabis leaves look like

The rest of the publication is just as badly informed.
Cannabis explained - a critique.

January 2007 - Contamination alert

Following the efforts of UKCIA and other activists sites to raise awareness of the "grit weed" issue Frank finally carried a health warning from the department of Health about the contamination. This was some six months after it became a widespread issue (see here).

The advice clearly comes from the department of Health rather than the Frank advertising team, it's written in DoH language rather than Franks annoying "yoof speak". Of course, it doesn't explain that the contamination was caused by the governments prohibition policy (the Keymer raids of summer 2006) and mixes the warning with the "don't use" message. But it does reluctantly accept that it is an additional risk above and beyond anything pure cannabis can pose.

However, this information isn't where you would expect to find it, it's in the "what's new" section linked from the front page, but it's not on the cannabis information page.

It's also wrong - it says about the grit weed "e.g. finding grittiness when rubbed between moistened fingers". This just shows they haven't actually researched the situation, the beads are too small to feel with your fingers. Rubbing the bud with a wet finger then sucking it and feeling the beads grind in your teeth is the only way to do it.

They don't give the simple advice that's needed in a clear "user friendly" way - which is

Don't sell grit weed
Don't buy grit weed
Don't smoke grit weed

And using contamination caused by the governments actions as a reason not to use cannabis is sadly typical.

DoH contamination alert

November 2006 - A new look

Frank had a makeover towards the end of 2006 with some new features being added. However, the front page has a flash image that can take over a minute to load (on an 8M broadband running Firefox and Win2K for the technical minded). When it does load you get a confusing and amateur looking kaleidoscope of letters, the ABC of drugs, which used to be a simple menu.

Other features added include "Yourspace" - a cunning reference there to the popular "myspace - but which turns out to be a postcard design page, so you can send anti drug messages to your mates. Hmmm....

A section called "sharing experiences" has some anti drug stories, but doesn't seem to be growing very fast. The stories claim to be from real people, they just happen to be "on message".

The cannabis information is much as before, tidied up a little but no more useful.

"Oh no, the Stoners are coming" seems to have gone.

All in all, visually a bit better, but doesn't seem to work very well - at least as far as loading the front page goes.

October 2006 - The Brain Warehouse

Set in some kind of shop we see people looking at different types of brain for sale. Using fisheye lens filming techniques we see a salesman selling a new brain to customers (in a psychotically scary way).

For some reason the young customer is offered a brain which doesn't cause puking, then we hear a backgound announcement about paranoia reduction. Then we get to the "freakout free X50" brain...

The aim of the advert is to try to dissuade kids from using cannabis, as such this is an important issue which must be treated in a serious and honest way, so it's very regrettable that the advert includes a claim which is knowingly untrue

Frank's voice over makes the case by prefixing the message "With stronger strains than ever before". By doing this, Frank is spreading the myth put about by some of the gutter tabloid press about highly potent "skunk". That statement simply isn't true, there has always been strong cannabis, it is not "stronger than ever before".

So one statement of "fact" in the advert is known to be untrue. If we know Frank tells lies, why believe anything he says?

But as always, Frank is only telling a part of the story. The true danger is prohibition and the total lack of control over the supply side. But of course, Frank can't tell the whole truth, he works for the government.

Watch the Talk to Frank "Brain warehouse" advert - This link to the Home Office page no longer works. As at 2010 the ad was still on youtube:


August 2006 - Oh no, the stoners are coming

Frank launches "Dopedash", an online game in which you walk around a park trying to avoid people offering you cannabis. If you eat the hamburgers that pop up, you get told cannabis gives you "hangar pangs" called the munchies. You're given two other snippets of anti cannabis factoids: Cannabis can "mess up your vision and even give you hallucinations" and "cannabis can make you uncoordinated", the game then ends as the straight/stoned meter at the top hits "stoned". Frank has never been to happy telling the truth about cannabis, this game has set a new low however.

Play "Dopedash" (this link no longer works, "dopedash" was scrapped

January 2006 - Frank on skunk

Towards the end of 2005 the Frank site was quietly updated with apparently a cut-and-paste addition to its cannabis information with some interesting, if slightly wrong, information

Frank on cannabis version 3

December 2005 - Dealer amounts?

Before the 2005 general election, the government introduced a bill to Parliament where it intended to set limits for possession of drugs, above which a court would presume an intention to supply. At the start of December they announced what they were thinking about as a limit for cannabis, which was proposed as being 4 ounces or resin and 0.5 Kg of "leaf". This is an example of the already harmful and ineffective laws supposedly governing the cannabis trade growing even more dangerous. Not only does it add more confusion and disrepute to the mess that is the UK's drugs policy, but now you don't have to have the intention of committing a "crime", or actually commit the "crime" in order to be imprisoned for several years.

The Limits Of Possession

This was quetly dropped in October 2006 as unworkable.

Talk to Frank Cannabis Information - updated critique

July 2005 - Drug war a total failure shock!

The British government has been aware of the fact that the so-called "war on drugs" that this country has been waging at huge cost for the past 30 or so years has been a total and utter failure.

The report, written in 2003, shows the government is fully aware of the futile nature of its prohibition policy, yet it seems determined to dig its way out of the hole it's created.

Read the SU Drugs project report here (PDF format)

Read UKCIA's open letter to Paul Goggins MP

December 2004 - HIT - Know Cannabis

Talk to Frank promotes a website from the HIT drugs advice agency. The aim of "Know Cannabis" is to try to get heavy users to think about their cannabis use and to encourage them to cut down or stop, as such the tone is sadly predictable and much of the information seems designed to reflect the government's agenda rather than a true harm reduction approach - something HIT are usually rightly famous for.

The most serious issue with the information provided by "Know Cannabis" is the way it ignores the issue of safer smoking - according to HIT cannabis use means smoking with tobacco and cannabis use make quitting tobacco harder. Some of the advice given is almost irresponsible.

UKCIA examimes the HIT "Know Cannabis" website here

October 2004 - which tribe do you belong to?

Talk to Frank has a go at defining youth subcultures. Having carried out extensive market research the advertising executives at Frank have defined the "top ten" tribes in the UK as being:

Geeks, Sporties, Skaters, Trendies, Townies, Moshers, Indies, Goths, Gangsters and Scallies -Frank doesn't seem to have heard of "Chavs" and seems to think "moshers" are something from 1990's American movies.

It also advises Moshers that they can "withstand exposure to loud noise without going deaf", which is, of course, stupid advice.

The basic message the advertising agency is trying to get across is "don't let your mates talk you into taking drugs", which is good advice, but they really should get out more.

September 2004 - Talk about cannabis

Talk to Frank issued a leaflet aimed at school kids, supposedly of quotes from real teenagers about their cannabis experiences. Although compromised by the need to get the legal point across without criticism, it does contain some good information.

UKCIA summary of "Talk about cannabis"

July 2004 - Hayzy days

The mentor foundation produced a leaflet aimed at kids, warning of the dangers of cannabis. Whereas UKCIA supports the aims of the leaflet - to inform kids - the use of outdated stereo-types and the underlaying message of Hayzy dayz devalued the leaflet.

UKCIA summary of Hayzy Dayz leaflet
UKCIA Hayzy Dayz sequel

Mentor foundation here

June 2004 - Is the Government getting the right advice?

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is the Government's statutory independent advisory body.A campaign group called PALAD is concerned that the ACMD is not following Governmental codes of practise or guidelines and failing to fulfil their duty. The resulting laws encourage more harmful drug use rather than less - surely not the aim of British drug policy? Read a summary of the evidence with links to a full report kindly sent to UKCIA by PALAD.

January 2004 - "Cannabis is still illegal"

Talk to Frank is issuing leaflets in an attempt to explain the new regime for cannabis. Anyone who remembers the "Heroin screws you up" campaign of the early 80's will groan at Franks lack of originality. Talk to Frank's cannabis leaflets: Cannabis info - "Going down" and
Drugs - What the law says...and what this means for you - both in pdf format.

December 2003 - Cannabis advice - comments

UKCIA reviews the updated Cannabis information given on "Talk to frank". This updates the original review.which you can see here from June 2003

Autumn/Winter 2003 - Unpure!

"Unpure hash" - Talk to Frank changes his advice regarding the purity of cannabis and joins ukcia in warning about "Soapbar".

June 2003

UKCIA open letter to Frank. Also UKCIA reviews the Cannabis information given on "Talk to frank" reviewed.


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