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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
happens if you ask Frank a question?
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.
government anti-drugs websites
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
the beginning there was 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.
seems like they just gave up on Trashed
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.
was a lot better than Trashed and contained information about alcohol and tobacco.
The Frank log
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
2009 - Secret police tactics against Headshops
leaked set of guidelines issued by ACPO (Association of Chief Constables) and
NIDA (National Police Improvement Agency) have been published on several forums.
include advice to look for "Posters or advertising for groups campaigning
for the Legalisation of cannabis". Welcome to the police state.
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
2009 - Cannabis: mess with your mind. Talk to Frank launches an "interactive"
website to support the reclassification to B - UKCIA
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!
2007 - Sham consultation excercise Drugs, our community, your say
government finally gave up pretending to have an evidence based drugs policy and
resorted to a PR campaign of sham consultationsDrugs, our community, your say
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.
this, including online submissions, produced a stunning 1,020responses.
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.
IPSOS - Mori evaluation of this massive public consultation excercise is here
13th - Drugs policy "cannot work"
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.
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.
argument always put forward against this is that there would be a commensurate
increase in drug use as a result of legalisation," he said.
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."
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).
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.
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
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.
don't give the simple advice that's needed in a clear "user friendly"
way - which is
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.
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....
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".
cannabis information is much as before, tidied up a little but no more useful.
no, the Stoners are coming" seems to have gone.
in all, visually a bit better, but doesn't seem to work very well - at least as
far as loading the front page goes.
2006 - The Brain Warehouse
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).
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...
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
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".
one statement of "fact" in the advert is known to be untrue. If we know
Frank tells lies, why believe anything he says?
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.
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.
(this link no longer works, "dopedash" was scrapped
2006 - Frank on skunk
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,
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
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
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.
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:
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.
also advises Moshers that they can "withstand exposure to loud noise without
going deaf", which is, of course, stupid advice.
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.
2004 - Talk about cannabis
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.
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
2004 - Is the Government getting the right advice?
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.