Modern reefer madness and the British media

In this blog, we look at those “what you can do if you think your neighbour is smoking cannabis” articles that keep reappearing online

Modern reefer madness and the British media

Modern reefer madness and the British media.

Over the past 4 years, a group of British newspapers and online news publications have been pitting the public against peaceful cannabis consumers by publishing pernicious propaganda advocating people narc on their weedy neighbours. 

A series of near-identical articles titled “What can you do if you think your neighbour is smoking cannabis?” advises readers on the best way to inform the police or landlord if they suspect their neighbours are smoking cannabis in their own home. A quick search online will return a plethora of these articles across a multitude of media platforms.

Google results for “What you can do if you think your neighbours are smoking cannabis”

The way these articles are constructed typically follows the same format. An introduction demonising cannabis consuming neighbours peppered with a little light misinformation and propaganda. Then a series of answered questions meant to inform and empower the reader into grassing on their cannabis consuming neighbours. 

The questions are usually along the lines of “Are you allowed to smoke cannabis in your home?” “will they find out that I called the police?” “Can I tell their landlord about them smoking cannabis?” “How do I find out who their landlord is?” and “What will happen to my neighbours if I call the police on them?”

These self-answered questions are designed to alleviate any of the reader’s remaining guilt about their own personal prejudices and misconceptions of cannabis consumers. It does this in the hopes of pushing the reader into informing the police of their illegal activities. 

The consequences of this are potentially huge for the neighbour. They may face anything from mild disruption (depending on the police force) to the complete destruction of their lives should they face prosecution and the plethora of punitive and social consequences of a criminal record.

From an investigation conducted by Vice reporter Simon Doherty we know that the first incarnation of these copy and paste anti-cannabis articles appeared online on the Daily Mirror website in April 2017. Since that initial publication on a near-monthly basis papers owned by the media group Reach PLC has been rehashing and republishing the same article across their vast media empire.

Reach PLC (formerly Trinity Mirror) owns the Daily Mirror, Daily Record/Sunday Record, Daily Star/Daily Star Sunday, and the Daily Express/Sunday Express and over 100+ region papers and online publications. It is in these regional papers that these propaganda pieces are most frequently published. 

This kind of cheap click-bait journalism has made the company a tidy little sum for their troubles as this week the company announced record digital revenue for the last fiscal quarter of 2020. Although, as with all print media the revenue from printed publications and their circulation is continuing to decline.

It is not just Reach PLC that is guilty of this kind of incompetent journalism. A similar article appeared in The Sheffield Star just after Christmas 2019 and then the exact same article appeared in The Yorkshire evening post the day after 420 the following year. 

We’re less than two weeks into 2021 and the same article has just been published a few days ago on “The News” Portsmouth. All of the above publications are owned by JPI Media, the company formed by the bondholders who bought Johnson Press PLC after it filed for bankruptcy in late 2018

Why are they publishing this propaganda? Are these media groups anti-drug or being paid to publish these pieces periodically? Well, an employee for the then Trinity Group told Vice’s global drug editor Max Daly in 2018 that;

“They click on these stories like crazy. It’s why virtually every regional newspaper in the UK run by the Trinity Group [Reach PLC] has reprinted the same two-drug stories – a creepy one about what to do if your neighbours are smoking cannabis, and an out-of-date, debunked story about how cocaine will rot your flesh – multiple times over the last two years.” 

I cannot find any connection between these media groups and any campaigns or industry lobbies. This isn’t to say there isn’t one, I just didn’t find one. I don’t believe Reach PLC are totally anti-drugs, in fact, one of their Scottish titles -The Scottish Daily Record ran a front-page calling on politicians to “stop treating vulnerable citizens as criminals” and decriminalise all drugs back in July 2019.

Front page of the Daily Record calling for politicians to decriminalise all drugs

So, it would seem that their motivation is a classic one, greed. It isn’t about creating stronger communities or improving local policing. It is about money pure and simple. The revenue generated by these types of click-bait titles on online publications is staggering. Reach PLC is set to make £130 million in profit for 2020. 

The announcement of higher than expected revenue saw the companies share price skyrocket by 25% to a 10-year high. Despite these bumper profits the company still laid off around 10% of its workforce at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in July 2020.

These tragic pieces of peak prohibition propaganda are an indictment of the entire British media. They’re all complicit in the publication of intentionally contradictory and misleading information about cannabis. 

They’ll post one story proclaiming that a miracle cannabis extract saved my son on one page, updates about that week’s “cannabis farm” raids on another, and then a final story about how smoking “skunk” will turn you violent and ultimately ruin your life.

The British press will continually frame adult consumers as criminals while running articles that amount to little more than flashy adverts for the “medical cannabis” and Hemp/CBD industry’s latest product or corporate innovation. 

Not once in any of these “what you can do..” articles does it suggest speaking to your neighbour about why they choose to consume cannabis or if they would mind modifying their consumption to help alleviate your fears and accommodate your needs. Remember a conversation will always carry more clout than the cosh. 

The author does not tell the reader to mind their own business and just live and let live. From my experience, I can tell you that I much prefer living in a community that regularly smokes cannabis and consumes illegal drugs than one that overly imbibes on the only accepted legal intoxicant – alcohol.

There is no attempt made by these articles to cultivate commonality or create community cohesion through compassionate conversations and understanding. These propaganda pieces will only create further suspicion, paranoia, and distrust of “the other” in our society – something we do not need any more of at this point in our history.

Written by Simpa for


Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.

One reply on “Modern reefer madness and the British media”

Evidence based seems to go nowhere in the UK> It undoubtedly points to some agenda by the Politicians we are, as yet unaware of. Knowing their modus operandi there is probably an element of ‘lining their own pockets’ and also the desire to be seen being tough on drugs, cos that a vote winner. Or has been up till now but is public opinion changing? Are the Tories and the Socialists now out of touch with the public ?

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