Nutt dismissal: expert backs Govt’s policy on illegal drugs

In the wake of the sacking of drugs adviser David Nutt, a drug harm expert has spoken out in defence of current drugs law.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked Professor Nutt for “crossing the line” between offering advice and “campaigning against” Government decisions.

His action has received the backing of a high profile expert on drug harm.

Neil McKeganey, Professor of Drug Misuse Research at the University of Glasgow, said that Prof Nutt had put himself on a “collision course” with the Government.

Writing in The Herald newspaper, Prof McKeganey pointed out that the role of Government advisers is to advise and not to continue questioning a Minister’s final decision once it is made.

He said: “Mr Nutt chose a different path that repeatedly and publicly returned to cannabis and ecstasy reclassification long after ministerial decision on those matters had been made and, in doing so, pushed the advisory role well into the realm of politics.”

According to Prof McKeganey, Prof Nutt’s published opinions in effect proposed “the dissolution of the distinction between the legal and illegal drugs that has been a cornerstone of our drug laws well before the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act”.

He continued: “If one is going to argue against that distinction, it hardly makes sense to do it from the position of being the person responsible for advising Government on the current laws relating to the illegal drugs.”

Prof McKeganey also pointed out that Prof Nutt’s comments on the dangers of drugs such as ecstasy could “trivialise, normalise and ultimately encourage a form of drug use”.

Writing in the Daily Mail, commentator Melanie Phillips pointed out that it was those who shared his views on ‘soft drugs’ who praised Prof Nutt as “the voice of scientific reason”.

She cited other eminent scientists such as the National Director for Mental Health, Professor Louis Appleby, who have publicised the dangers of cannabis to mental health.

She also critised Prof Nutt’s “irresponsible” comments because they have “given the impression cannabis and ecstasy aren’t very harmful”.

The Conservative Party has criticised the manner of Prof Nutt’s dismissal but backed Mr Johnson’s stance on illegal drugs.

Conservative leader David Cameron said: “What seems to have happened here is the breakdown of confidence and mutual confidence between adviser and minister and some very unseemly scenes have followed”.

He added: “I am very clear in terms of the actual policy that we should not be changing classifications, we should be keeping them where we are — yes, on drugs, but also on alcohol.”

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