Monday, November 02, 2009

Drugs: Alan Johnson deaf to Reason, attentive only to Police Authorities

What did Professor David Nutt say to cause Alan Johnson the home Secretary to sack him? He set out his views in his Eve Saville Lecture, Imperial College London in July 2009.

In it he says:
I think we have to accept young people like to
experiment – with drugs and other potentially
harmful activities – and what we should be doing
in all of this is to protect them from harm at this
stage of their lives. We therefore have to provide
more accurate and credible information. If you
think that scaring kids will stop them using, you’re
probably wrong. They are often quite knowledgeable
about drugs and the internet has made access to
information extremely simple. We have to tell them
the truth, so that they use us as their preferred
source of information. A fully scientifically-based
Misuse of Drugs Act where drug classification
accurately refl ects harms would be a powerful
educational tool.
[emphasis added - RL]

David Nutt repeats the phrase "accurate and credible information" in his piece in the Guardian last Thursday.

So this is the nub. The scientific advisor wants drug law to reflect sound evidence. The Home Office on the other hand wants to persist with the current absurd ABC classification.

What does Alan Johnson have to say for himself? In a letter to the Guardian today he plays the constituency card : There are not many kids in my constituency in danger of falling off a horse [referring to the risk comparison between horse riding and ecstasy] – there are thousands at risk of being sucked into a world of hopeless despair through drug addiction.

Maybe, Alan, but tens of thousands at immediate risk of alcohol, yet Government takes no action on alcopops and the easy and cheap availability of alcohol. (How much does the drinks industry donate to the Labour Party? I'm only asking)

In his lecture, the Professor has a table on the public opinion on reclassifying Cannabis to the more risky Class B. There was a clear majority of opinion in favour of leaving it in the less draconian Class C. Totals were 278/121 in favour of class C. That included a lot of personal opinions, but Health professionals , Statutory Partnerships, Local Authorities
Drug Service Providers, Charity & Voluntary Groups and Lobby/Activist/Pressure groups were all in favour of leaving it in class C, with 86 in favour of class C and 47 in favour of upgrading again to class B.

Interesting that Health Professionals vote 7-3 in favour of leaving it as Class C. So much for the argument that the reclassification is about anxiety about the greater potential for skunk to cause psychosis.

There was one group and one group only whowere in favour of making it class B, meaning a 5 year prison sentence instead of a mere 2 years in our underused prison facilities. That was the Police Authorities, who had 19 in favour of upgrading to Class B and 4 opposed.

So who did the Home Office side with? The police. Who obviously feel that they have time on their hands, feel that the courts and prisons are not running to capacity.

This is a battle for the role of scientific reasoning in policy making. Let's hope that the scientific community has the courage to come together on this principle, and shame the Home Office into reinstating Professor David Nutt.

PS: List of politicians who have taken drugs.

Continued in next post.

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