The Government’s chief drug adviser has criticised ministers’ decision to reclassify cannabis back to class B.
Professor David Nutt, who is chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), also claimed that ecstasy, LSD and cannabis are less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes.
Prof Nutt made his comments in a lecture and briefing paper for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London.
His briefing accused former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of “distorting and devaluing” scientific research when she made the decision to reclassify cannabis.
He played down the risks of psychotic illness associated with cannabis, arguing that it is safer than tobacco and alcohol.
After cannabis was downgraded to class C in 2004, judges, police, parents and mental health experts called for the move to be reversed because of the damage it caused.
The availability of skunk – the strongest form of cannabis – soared when the law was weakened. Cannabis-related admissions to mental hospitals have risen by 85 per cent since Labour came to power, according to Government figures.
There are now more than 22,000 people a year, almost half under the age of 18, being treated for cannabis addiction. In 1997 the number was 1,600.
Defending his attitude to cannabis on the BBC’s Today Programme, Prof Nutt said that in the last ten years “there has not been anything we have seen to suggest that it is more dangerous than class C drugs”.
In his lecture Prof Nutt said: “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 are probably wrong.”
He also reiterated his claim that taking ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse.
When he made the claim earlier this year the Home Secretary accused him of “trivialising” the dangers of drugs and made him apologise to the families of people killed by ecstasy.
Prof Nutt’s paper included a ranking system comparing the relative harm of legal and illegal drugs.
His ranking placed alcohol fifth, behind drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
He placed tobacco ninth, with cannabis eleventh, LSD fourteenth and ecstasy eighteenth.
He said: “We need a full and open discussion of the evidence and a mature debate about what the drug laws are for — and whether they are doing their job.”
A spokesman for the ACMD said: “The lecture Prof Nutt gave at King’s College was in his academic capacity and was not in his role as chair of the ACMD.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Prof Nutt’s views are his own”, adding: “The Government is clear: we are determined to crack down on all illegal substances and minimise their harm to health and society as a whole.”
James Brokenshire, the Conservative home affairs spokesman, said: “Rather than providing clearer evidence on the harms linked to illicit drugs, Professor Nutt is making an overtly political pitch and that isn’t helpful.”