If you are travelling around central London this month, don’t be surprised to see a double-decker bus carrying the campaign slogan “Nice People Take Drugs”:

Release, a UK drug law reform campaigning organisation, is running this advertising campaign on 25 London buses during June “to open up the drugs debate and engage the public in a more sophisticated and honest drugs dialogue”.

As Release points out, over a third of adults in England and Wales have used illicit drugs. Although Release argues that more people have used cannabis in the UK than voted for Labour at the last election, this could be explained either by high rates of cannabis use in the UK compared to other countries or record low levels of support for British Labour. In fact, both explanations are true.

In Australia, it only seems a matter of time before cannabis smokers will outnumber cigarette smokers. Could it really be that cigarette smokers include a proportion of nice people but there are no nice cannabis smokers?

Sebastian Saville, the Executive Director of Release, explained that his organisation decided to run this campaign because:

The constant association by politicians and the media of drugs with words like evil and shame simply does not reflect most people’s experience of drugs. The public is tired of the artificial representation of drugs in society, which is not truthful about the fact that all sorts of people use drugs. If we are to have a fair and effective drug policy, it must be premised on this reality first and foremost.

Saville says that Release chose the slogan “to illustrate the extent to which drugs are present in many aspects of society and across every generation, culture and class”.

In the UK, ecstasy, LSD, heroin, cocaine, crack, magic mushrooms, amphetamines (if prepared for injection) are classified as “Class A” drugs. Conviction for possession of a Class A drug can result in up to seven years in prison or an unlimited fine or both. A conviction for dealing can result in up to life in prison or an unlimited fine or both. Yet over one million adults in the UK used class A drugs last year. Release also points out that 13,000 children in the UK were arrested for drug offences in 2006/07.

Saville contrasts the outcry over the parliamentary expenses scandal far outstrips any negative reaction the public has had to previous revelations of drug use by MPs.

This campaign by Release is yet another indication of the changing attitudes to illicit drugs. This campaign will be criticised by Drug War supporters arguing that attempts to reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by drug users will inevitably just encourage greater drug use.

Others may wonder why western countries seem to always need a few groups to serve as scapegoats. Communists and homos-xuals are no longer available to serve this useful function. If drug users cease to be available as scapegoats that only leaves Moslems, terrorists and people who ride motor cycles. Is that going to be enough?

In the 1980s I met a retired architect in Brno, Czechoslovakia, who had been offered a promotion that required joining the Communist Party. He declined the offer and was dismissed. Unemployment was a crime in Czechoslovakia at the time.

As we stood on his small balcony, he described the decades of misery that followed and recalled the earlier invasions of his country by the Nazis in 1939 and by the Soviets in 1968. He witnessed some of his family and friends colluding with the invaders.

Though his life had been ruined by communisms, it took him some time, he said, to realise that not all the communists were bad people and not all the anti-communists were good people. It was worth travelling all the way from Australia to hear that piece of wisdom.