Campaign: Charity calls for Govt action on cannabis - Lobbying

Campaign: Cannabis and psychosis - cannabis reclassification one year on

Client: Rethink

PR team: In-house

Timescale: Ongoing from December 2004

Budget: Under £10,000

In January 2004, cannabis was reclassified from a Class B to a Class C drug. Rethink, the charity for severe mental illness sufferers and their carers, wanted to use the anniversary to raise public understanding of the mental health risks associated with cannabis use. Objectives

To raise public awareness and gain DoH recognition of the link between repeated cannabis use and acute mental health problems. To launch a Health Select Committee (HSC) inquiry.

Strategy and Plan

The charity instigated a media and public affairs campaign, to flag up the fact that reclassification had sent out confusing messages about cannabis use to young people. The key challenge was to stay away from the legalisation of drugs debate and to avoid accusations of preaching about personal choice.

Lobbying activity included letters to, and meetings with, Government ministers, while Rethink's campaign team worked with the Home Office to develop publicity materials and leaflets.

The anniversary of the change took place on 27 January and to mark this the PR team sent out a press release to national newspapers, crime and health correspondents, plus the trade press, calling for an HSC study into the links between cannabis and psychosis.

It was supported by HSC member Doug Naysmith MP and also carried recent research from the Metropolitan Police, Keele University and the Institute of Psychiatry, showing that there had been an increase in cannabis use since the reclassification and a subsequent rise in mental health problems.

The activity was backed by access to case studies and spokespeople, including Rethink volunteer, Terry Hammond, whose son experienced delusions and paranoia for the first time as a direct result of using cannabis resin, and Professor Robin Murray, a worldwide expert on schizophrenia.

Measurement and Evaluation

The story was covered by most national TV and radio channels on Saturday 29 January, including BBC Breakfast and BBC One news, ITV News, Channel 4 News and BBC News 24. It was also the lead item on the Today programme and repeated throughout the day on BBC Radio One and Radio 5 Live.

Newspapers included The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, The Times, Sunday Express, The Sunday Times and Independent on Sunday.

Other coverage included The Spectator, BBC World Service, LBC Radio, BBC Online, ITV.com, Reuters, politics.co.uk, Femalefirst.co.uk Community Care, Third Sector, The Scotsman.com, and BBC Wales.

Results

In the week following the campaign, Rethink received over 260 emails, calls and hits to its cannabis website.

In February, the DoH announced a scientific review into the links between cannabis and psychosis and Conservative MP Nigel Evans tabled a Private Members Bill.

On 19 March, Home Secretary Charles Clarke ordered the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs to rethink its classification of cannabis, citing new studies suggesting a strong link between the drug and mental illness.

Celia Dodd who covered the campaign as the lead story for The Times' Body & Soul supplement says: 'Rethink was really on the ball. It pointed me in the right direction for further information and provided a good case history.'

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