Source: The Guardian
October 31 2009
by David Batty
The government’s former chief drug adviser today accused the prime
minister, Gordon Brown, of tightening the law on cannabis for political reasons. Professor David Nutt warned that other experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs
(ACMD) could resign in protest at his sacking by the home secretary,
Alan Johnson, yesterday.
Nutt was forced to quit after he accused ministers of “devaluing and
distorting” the scientific evidence over illicit drugs when they decided last year to reclassify cannabis from class C to class B against the advice of the ACMD.
Nutt told the BBC today that Brown had “made up his mind” to
reclassify cannabis despite evidence to the contrary.
“Gordon Brown comes into office and, soon after that, he starts
saying absurd things like cannabis is lethal… it has to be a class B
drug. He has made his mind up.
“We went back, we looked at the evidence, we said, ‘No, no, there is
no extra evidence of harm, it’s still a class C drug.’ He said,
‘Tough, it’s going to be class B’.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Nutt said: “He is the
first prime minister, this is the first government, that has ever in
the history of the Misuse of Drugs Act gone against the advice of its
“And then it did it again with ecstasy and I have to say it’s not
about overstepping the line, it’s about the government
overstepping the line. They are making scientific decisions before
they’ve even consulted with their experts.
“I know that my committee was very, very upset by the attitude the
prime minister took over cannabis. We actually formally wrote to him
to complain about it,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of
them stepped down. Maybe all of them will.”
Nutt’s sacking is likely to raise concerns among scientists over the
independence of advice to the government and may trigger further
resignations. The Home Office describes the ACMD as an independent
expert body that advises on drug-related issues, including
recommendations on classification under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
It is not thought that the home secretary spoke directly to Nutt
before requesting his resignation in writing.
Johnson accused the professor of going beyond his remit as an
evidence-based scientist and accused him of “lobbying for a change in
government policy” rather than giving impartial advice.
“It is important that the government’s messages on drugs are clear
and as an adviser you do nothing to undermine the public understanding
of them,” Johnson wrote to Nutt.
“As my lead adviser on drugs harms I am afraid the manner in which
you have acted runs contrary to your responsibilities.
“I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy
and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as
chair of the ACMD.”
The decision followed the publication of a paper by the Centre for
Crime and Justice at King’s College London, based on a lecture Nutt
delivered in July. He repeated his familiar view that illicit drugs
should be classified according to the actual evidence of the harm they
cause and pointed out that alcohol
and tobacco caused more harm than LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.
He accused the former home secretary, Jacqui Smith, of distorting and
devaluing scientific research when she reclassified cannabis, and
repeated his claim that the risks of taking ecstasy were no worse than
riding a horse.
The charity DrugScope’s director of communications, Harry Shapiro,
said: “The home secretary’s decision to force the resignation of the
chair of an independent advisory body is an extremely serious and
concerning development and raises serious questions about the means by
which drug policy is informed and kept under review.”
Richard Garside, the director of the Centre for Crime and Justice at
King’s College London, accused Johnson of undermining scientific
He said: “I’m shocked and dismayed that the home secretary appears to
believe that political calculation trumps honest and informed