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Rachael Leigh Cook Recreated Her Iconic “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA With an Important Twist

Scared straight.

It’s been 30 years since the iconic “This is your brain on drugs” PSA, that gave children everywhere an aversion to fried eggs lasting well into adulthood. (Just me?) A decade later, Rachael Leigh Cook shot the follow-up video, showing your brain “when you snort heroin.” For ’90s kids, this PSA is probably lodged as deeply into your memories of after-school television as Power Rangers and Batman: The Animated Series.

Now, Cook has recreated the commercial, but with an important twist. Rather than create a metaphor for your brain on drugs, the new ad shows “your brain on drug policy.” Because when you look at the numbers, the American War on Drugs may be more harmful to people’s lives than the drugs themselves.

While the video was scheduled to be released on April 20th for the obvious 4/20 nod, it turned out the day was also, coincidentally, the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Cook’s original video. She said that she was inspired to update her original performance after watching Ava DuVernay’s brilliant and harrowing Netflix documentary The 13th, which explores the deeply flawed “intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States.”

Cook said in a statement, “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. 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.”

Thanks to the War on Drugs, starting with Richard Nixon but really picking up steam in the ’80s, with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign and Republicans’ zero-tolerance drug policy, hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders were in prison by the time Cook’s original ad aired. And as the video lays out–and as DuVernay’s documentary explores in-depth–the War on Drugs doesn’t target all drug users equally. While white Americans use drugs more than people of color, POC are incarcerated in disproportionately high numbers.

According to Green Point Creative, the agency that made the new PSA, there were 700,000 arrests made last year for marijuana possession. That’s more than rape, murder, and robbery combined. Half of the people incarcerated in federal prison are there on drug charges. And, as we see in the video, after serving time for a drug-based felony, even a nonviolent one, the idea of a “fresh start”–that whole paying your debt to society thing–doesn’t really work out. The obstacles between having a felony conviction and getting a job or paying college tuition are built to be insurmountable.

Black Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than Whites, at a time when, by most surveys, more than 70% of Americans don’t think the government should be wasting time cracking down on marijuana use to begin with. So while hard drug use can have all sorts of negative and even devastating effects, I’m much more likely to believe the real frying pan here is the system that so unjustly punishes that use.

(via Adweek, image: YouTube)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.