Rachael Leigh Cook and Her Frying Pan Are Back. This Time the Enemy Isn’t Drugs but Drug Policy

Star of famous '90s PSA has a message on 4/20

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Happy 4/20, everyone.

Did you know the federal government continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug despite 24 states and the District of Columbia having legalized it in some form and eight states passing laws allowing its recreational use?

Twenty years ago, actress Rachael Leigh Cook, then 18, appeared in a famous PSA that focused on the ravages of opiate addiction on the 10th anniversary of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s classic egg-centric “This is your brain on drugs” campaign. Today, Cook appears in a very different sort of ad for a very different client—as the Drug Policy Alliance examines the human toll of the “war on drugs” launched more than 45 years ago by Richard Nixon.

The spot flips the egg metaphor on its head to tell the story of discriminatory drug sentencing laws, and marijuana users whose lives, relationships and job prospects have been ruined for using a substance that more than 60 percent of Americans now believe should be legal for everyone.

The work comes from Green Point Creative, a mini-agency that focuses on one issue: current drug laws and their effects on marijuana users.

Howard Bowler spent more than 12 years at Grey before launching his audio production company HOBO. He created Green Point after witnessing firsthand the damage done by arcane drug laws.

“The history of prohibition is pretty astonishing,” Bowler told Adweek. “We launched [Green Point] as a side project, so it’s not our bread and butter … Drug Policy Alliance is our first client.”

As Bowler tells it, a late 2016 brainstorming session with Green Point and its production partners led to a simple idea: “Take that old drug spot and just make the point that these laws create more problems.”

Green Point and the DPA had always planned to release the campaign on 4/20, a date that has been associated with marijuana for years, but Bowler didn’t realize that today doubles as the 20th anniversary of the original anti-heroin ad. And the agency hadn’t considered Cook for the lead role before revisiting the 1997 spot (below).

“The ultimate goal of this spot is to educate people,” Bowler said. “Are we really helping people by arresting and incarcerating them?”

The work feels particularly relevant amid reports about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plans to double down on federal anti-drug policies. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly made seemingly contradictory statements about marijuana this week, stating that the substance is “not a factor” in the drug war while also announcing that ICE and the Trump administration will consider simple possession as grounds for deportation in “targeted operations against illegal aliens living in the United States.”

Bowler described Sessions’ history of anti-marijuana statements (he recently called its medical use “hyped, maybe too much“) as “fossilized thinking,” adding, “Look at mortality rates … The most lethal drug is tobacco, and it’s not even listed as a controlled substance.”

Cook agreed to the project after watching The 13th, an Ava DuVernay documentary on Netflix about racial inequality in the U.S. prison system. “The shocking, cold-water education her documentary presented compelled me to reexamine my own involvement with a larger movement that has gone on to harm so many,” Cook said in a statement. “When my unique position brought about the opportunity to raise my voice again about this issue, I knew it was the right thing to do. My hope now is to bring attention to the wildly unfair practices of drug sentencing and advocate for their reform.”

Green Point plans to continue creating content related to marijuana laws, and Bowler said the agency is currently working on a scripted series focused on that topic.

“Our main focus will remain cannabis,” said managing director and HOBO producer Jon Mackey, “but with this spot we went out to tackle the larger problem of prohibition. The laws are unjust, racist and backwards.”

Client: Drug Policy Alliance
Project: “Your Life on Drug Policy”
Airdate: April 20

Creative Agency: Green Point Creative
Creative Director: Howard Bowler
Managing Director: Jon Mackey
Production Manager: Mary Valentino

Production: Motiv Creative, New York
Director Ryan Kleier

Shoot: The Shed, New York
Makeup/Hair: Abby Hayden
Sound: Chris Viall
Gaffer: Andreas Roalsvig
Director of Photography: Matt McClain
1st Assistant Camera: Matt Donovan
Production Assistant: Josh Lee

Animation/Post Production: Edit 1, New York
Producer: Dan Fuerst
Animation Creative Director: Michael Zimbard
Art Producer: Diane Boston
Illustrator: Kevin Kobasic
2D Animation:  Erica Jaffin Matt Trudell

Music/Audio Post: HOBO Audio, New York
Mix/Sound Design: Chris Stangroom/Diego Jimenez
Music: Oscar Convers/Julian Angel

Social Media Consultant
Lawrence Lac

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.