Pubdate: Mon, 02 Nov 2009
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2009 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Stephen McGinty


TWO experts have resigned in support of the government's chief drugs
adviser - sacked for claiming cannabis is less harmful than alcohol.

Dr Les King yesterday quit the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs
(ACMD), saying Home Secretary Alan Johnson had denied Professor David
Nutt's "freedom of expression."

Meanwhile, it was reported Marion Walker, who represented the Royal
Pharmaceutical Society on the council, has also resigned.

The controversy erupted last week when Prof Nutt was sacked after
saying cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or nicotine, and that the
drug had been upgraded to Class B against scientific evidence.

He also argued that the reclassification had been for political
reasons and "on the whim of the Prime Minister". After being sacked
via e-mail by Mr Johnson, Prof Nutt predicted there would be further
resignations from the government advisory body that he headed.

Yesterday Dr King, author of a book on the Misuse of Drugs Act and
previously head of the Drugs Intelligence Unit in the Forensic Science
Service, said there was "very strong feeling" among the council's
members over Prof Nutt's sacking.

He said: "I'm not going to say just how many I think might resign but
there is an extremely angry feeling among most council members.

"Amongst the scientists, I think a number will resign. It doesn't need
the whole council to resign for the thing to stop working."

Dr King said the government's attitude to the panel had been shifting
in recent years and home secretaries now had a "predefined political
agenda" when they asked for its expert advice.

He said: "It's being asked to rubber-stamp a predetermined position."
Dr King added: "If sufficient members do resign, the committee will no
longer be able to operate."

Dr King said he believed the panel needed to become "free from
government interference" in the same way as the National Institute for
Clinical Excellence, the organisation that advises on medicines and
clinical practice.

He said: "I don't see why drugs can't be done the same. It can be
totally de-politicised. It's all about harm. It's a scientific issue."

Yesterday Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he thought his former chief
drugs adviser was "wrong" on cannabis, but sacked him for "crossing a
line" into politics.

Prof Nutt responded, saying: "What you cannot have is politicians
stepping into the scientific arena - and that is exactly what they
have done."

The government was also criticised by Labour peer Lord Winston, who
said he agreed with Prof Nutt's scientific opinion on cannabis and was
"very surprised and disappointed" by Mr Johnson's actions.

He said: "If governments appoint expert advice, they shouldn't dismiss
it so lightly."

He warned the government would be ignored if it gave advice to the
public that did not take account of scientists' opinions and said Prof
Nutt had made a "very reasonable" point about the relative dangers of
illegal and legal drugs. 
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