By Tony Walley.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has entered the on-going row between the Home Secretary Allan Johnson and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD] by backing the sacking of its Chairman, Professor David Nutt.
An official Downing Street spokesman insisted that Johnson’s decision was based on an “important principle” that advisers should present advice to ministers but should not campaign against their policy decisions.
Johnsons decision to sack Professor Nutt has sparked a number of resignations from the 28 strong Advisory Council, with more tipped to follow suit.
The Home Secretary has responded to the resignations by ordering a snapshot review of how the council operates.
Professor Nutt was fired following the publication of a paper by the Centre for Crime and Justice at King’s College London, based on a lecture he delivered in July. He repeatedly expressed the view that illicit drugs should be classified according to the actual evidence of the harm they cause.
He claims that alcohol should rank fifth in the index of harmful drugs, behind cocaine, heroin, barbiturates and methadone; and tobacco should rank ninth, ahead of cannabis, LSD and ecstasy.
He also controversially argued that smoking cannabis created only a “relatively small risk” of psychotic illness.
Allan Johnson reacted furiously to the suggestion by Sky TV’s Adam Boulton during a televised interview that he had sacked the professor because he did not like what he had to say.
The Home Secretary replied: “You cannot have a chief adviser at the same time stepping into the public field and campaigning against Government decisions.”
In a letter to the Guardian newspaper Mr Johnson referred to Professor Nutts comparison to the risk of riding a horse and taking ecstasy: “There are not many kids in my constituency in danger of falling off a horse – there are thousands at risk of being sucked into a world of hopeless despair through drug addiction.”
Writing in the Times newspaper, Professor Nutt warned more of the remaining 28 members could leave.
He said: “It seems unlikely that any ‘true’ scientist will be able to work for this, or future, home secretaries.
“My sacking has cast a huge shadow over the relationship of science to policy.
“Several of the science experts from the ACMD have resigned in protest and it seems likely that many others will follow suit.
“This means the Home Office no longer has a functioning advisory group, which is very unfortunate given the ever-increasing problems of drugs and the emergence of new ones.”
The ACMD is a statutory body which was established by Parliament after a 1971 Act which brought in the concept of classifying illegal drugs into three categories, with class A being the most harmful and C being the least harmful.