Posters warning against the perils of pot are popping up in Camden Town, as a London group launches a scare tactic campaign against cannabis. At first glance, the posters look like a relic of the past. “Just Say No” and Reefer Madness come to mind. But are the posters rooted in any truth?
The Camden London Borough Council began hanging the posters at bus stops earlier this month. They tell the story of a presumably real youth named Ricky. Apparently, a “bit of weed” ruined Ricky’s life.
In the poster, a photograph depicts a young man enjoying a party while blowing a cloud of smoke at the camera. The text explains that Ricky is a high school dropout and outcast. He is now working at a Camden cannabis farm against his will, with no way out,
Town Councillor Georgia Gould told local media that the posters were not meant to judge cannabis users. But, she said, the public awareness campaign was attempting to establish a link between social cannabis use and the illegal drug trade.
“We have seen a big rise in youth violence with young people being groomed for the drugs trade,” she said. “The campaign is about raising awareness and starting a debate. We all live in one community and it’s important to know what’s happening on our streets.”
Some Basis In Fact
The poster campaign is loosely based on reality. Camden has had a strong cannabis culture for years. Police admitted as much in a letter they sent to local shops during a campaign to rid the area of drug paraphernalia. In it, they claimed some success in removing traffickers from the streets.
“However, the drug dealers are shortly replaced by more drug dealers,” the letter said. “This endless tide is due to the location’s notoriety for being a place to come and buy drugs. Some refer to it as ‘London’s Amsterdam’.”
And last year, the independent anti-slavery commissioner for the U.K. faulted the police for failing to curtail slavery on cannabis farms. The commissioner, Kevin Hyland, said that young people from Vietnam were being forced to cultivate marijuana against their will.
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Despite the grim realities of the Camden drug trade, detractors of the ad campaign say it goes too far. They note that the posters seem to be aimed at Brits, but most of those compelled to work at grow sites are immigrants.
Others say the program is unlikely to see success. Sian Berry is a member of the Green Party and serves on the Camden council. She said the PR push “sounded like something going back to the 1980s and ‘Just Say No’, which we know didn’t work.”
Berry also said that the council’s communications team had created successful public awareness campaigns in the past. They had worked on a drive to encourage drivers to shut off their cars while parked, rather than idling the engines. But, she said, the new posters seem hyperbolic.
“The campaigns which work best are simple. So, you say when you park your car, please remember to turn off your engine. Not, ‘Stop driving because you are killing children’, and it’s the same with this,” Berry said.
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