No science please; we’re British Labour

marijuana-sBritish scientists are up in arms about the Labour government’s sacking of Dr. David Nutt as head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after he refused to toe the government’s strident line against marijuana and ecstasy.

On Friday, Home Secretary Alan Johnson dismissed Nutt, head of the Psychopharmacology Unit in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Bristol, after the Centre for Crime and Justice at King’s College London published a paper containing criticisms he had made of the Brown government’s drug policies in a lecture last July. In the talk, Nutt said ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes. He also criticised the decision to upgrade cannabis to a class B narcotic, whose users could receive five years in prison.

Two members of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs—Les King, an expert chemist, and Marion Walker, a pharmacist and clinical director with the substance misuse service at the Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust—quit the council in protest over the weekend. Published reports say the 28 remaining members may quit en masse.

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, Britain’s leading medical research organization, blasted the government for firing Nutt. He said scientists must be free to give “unfettered advice without the fear of reprisal.”

In his July talk, Nutt rated alcohol as Britain’s “fifth most harmful drug, after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone.” He rated tobacco ninth,” adding that, “Cannabis, LSD, and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively.”

Nutt had earlier clashed with former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for noting that horseback riding causes 100 deaths a year in Britain, as opposed to just 30 linked to ecstasy use.

The council is scarcely a radical pro-pot organization. Its latest report on the recreational use of marijuana, published last year, concluded:

  • Cannabis is a harmful drug and there are concerns about the widespread use of cannabis amongst young people.
  • A concerted public health response is required to drastically reduce its use.
    Current evidence suggests a probable, but weak, causal link between psychotic illness and cannabis use.
  • The harms caused by cannabis are not considered to be as serious as drugs in class B and therefore it should remain a class C drug.

Smith ignored the panel’s recommendation that cannabis should not be reclassified from class C back to class B, leading to heavier penalties.

The ironic thing is that the Brown government’s posturing, like the Harper government’s, is lost on the population it pretends to influence. Since Contrarian‘s days as a university student some years before the flood, youthful marijuana smokers have been well aware that its prohibition is based not scientific evidence but moral prejudice.

Alas, Contrarian is no longer a youthful marijuana smoker.