Ok firstly let me apologise for not posting anything in ages. No excuse really, I just didn’t get around to it. But hey it seems as if no one else did either so I don’t feel all that bad about it now. Anyway on to what I wanted to talk about.
Now I am sure that by now many of you have heard about Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, being fired by Home Secretary Alan Johnson for comments about the government’s cannabis policy. I have no doubt there is more to the story than is being reported but it does seem to indicate that, despite Mr Johnson doing his best to avoid saying so directly, Professor Nutt was let go because he publicly pointed out that the government’s policy with regards to certain drugs was in no way based upon scientific evidence nor the advise provided by the advisory council itself.
Now I don’t know what your thoughts are with regards to the legality of drugs, though I would be interested to find out, but I think the point to focus on here has to do with the intersection of science and political policy. Here is a section from the BBC report on the matter that I think highlights my point:
Prof Nutt was sacked on Friday after using a lecture to say that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.
He also said it was upgraded to Class B – against the council’s advice – for political reasons. Earlier in the year he had suggested that taking ecstasy was no more dangerous than horse riding.
Hitting back in the Guardian, the home secretary said Prof Nutt was not sacked for his views “which I respect but disagree with” but because “he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy”.
It is that last sentence that really stands out. The job of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is to provide the government with the best information there is about the dangers of drugs. If the evidence says, to use Professor Nutt’s own example, that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than cannabis, and you say this, does this really make you “a campaigner against government policy“? Are you not just telling the truth? So is the truth against government policy? Fellow council member Dr Les King, who resigned in protest over this matter, had this to say:
He said ministers had used the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as “a rubber stamp, as a poodle, by coming to the advisory council with a pre-determined agenda about drug classification”.
What do we do when the science says one thing but the political wind is blowing in the other direction? If the government wants to put out the message that cannabis is a killer and should be illegal but all the evidence says otherwise where should we, as skeptics and rational thinkers, side on this matter? With the Law or with the science?
I’m not going to say any more on this right now as I am still formulating my own thoughts. I would, as always, be interested to hear what you think about this issue.
Oh and on a completely unrelated note 2009 Golden Crocoduck winner Ray Comfort has used a comment from me as the basis of his latest blog post. That’s fairly cool…in a weird way.