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


FORMER Home Secretary Charles Clarke waded into the escalating drugs
classification row today, accusing Gordon Brown of ignoring his own
scientific advisers. Mr Clarke insisted the Prime Minister had been
wrong to "prejudge" the decision on toughening cannabis laws before
experts had even studied the issue.

The intervention came as more members of the Advisory Council on the
Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) appeared on the verge of quitting in protest
over the sacking of their chairman, Professor David Nutt.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said Prof Nutt's position had become
untenable because he was effectively campaigning against Government
policy by calling for cannabis to become a class C drug.

But writing in the Times today Prof Nutt warned that the two ACMD
members who had already stood down were only the start, and the body
could cease to exist altogether.

"It seems unlikely that any 'true' scientist will be able to work for
this, or future, home secretaries," he insisted.

Conservative leader David Cameron branded the row "very unseemly", and
said there had been a "breakdown of confidence" between ministers and

But he backed the Government's policy of maintaining higher penalties
for cannabis.

"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," the Tory leader told an event in London.

"But 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."

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that ministers had to
reassure scientists that they would be taken seriously.

"I think the mistake was right at the beginning of (Mr Brown's)
premiership, saying he was going to change the cannabis rules before
the advisory committee had considered its position. I think that was
an error."

Mr Clarke went on: "I think what is most important is the Government
moves to reassure the scientific community in general that the
advisory committees are there to look at the issues in the round and
to give their opinion, and their opinion will be taken seriously.

"I think they are entitled to expect that, if they give their advice,
their conclusions will be very seriously considered. If it is being
prejudged in a different direction, that doesn't arise and I think
that is where the difficulties have arisen here." 
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