Thursday, 4 February 2010

Former Government Advisor Leads Drugs Debate

The visit of Professor David Nutt to give a talk on drugs policy at Reading University provided an opportunity for students and political activists to discuss drugs policy. He gained a national profile when he was sacked as a government advisor - you might be forgiven for calling him an ex-expert.

The event was organised by his nephew Rob Nutt, who is an alumnus of the establishment, with the assistance of Reading Liberal Youth.

Local LibDem blogger Mark Reckons chaired the event advertising it as follows:
"Professor David Nutt is one of the most highly respected, yet controversial figures in drugs research and is the former Chairman of the government advisory body on drugs policy, the ACMD (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs).

In this role he was seen to be outspokenly critical of the classification of some drugs, publishing several papers in noted medical journals on the correlations between Dependence/Self Harm; risk assessments between taking some drugs and other activities (f.e. horse riding and taking ecstacy); and speaking out on these and similar topics in public lectures."
Prof Nutt has since set up an group of policy advisers and scientists to give independent advice on the relative harm each drug is known to cause. He argues this is the only way to clear up the confusion between the science and the politicking on the subject.

However as commenters note, drugs policy is influenced as much by political concerns as it is the real effects on individuals and society.

Dazmando was on hand to provide a comprehensive review of the event with supporting statistics.

He points out that Prof Nutt is a psychiatrist and leading neuropsychopharmacologist specialising in the research of drugs which affect the brain, and describes how the talk was broken down into stages dealing with each aspect of policy formation as follows:
  • The law on drugs and its history
  • The ranking system
  • Media reporting and bias
  • Drugs and politics and science
This was followed by a question and answers conducted with Prof Nutt's characteristic sense of humour.

Interestingly he notes that the illegal market in drugs is estimated to be only second in scale to the global oil industry and that fighting the flow of goods creates a pretext for criminal gangs to operate in an uncontrolled manner outside of regulation because they are driven underground.


Mark gained a private interview.

He also picks up a number of points including how Prof Nutt's personal opinion about the law has changed since he became involved with the government advisory committee.

He explained that the prohibition has given Police 'disproportionate' powers which are often counterproductive and that the results of current policy is 'difficult to reconcile' with present justifications of harm reduction.

Meanwhile ministers were criticised for twisting evidentially-based arguments through misrepresentation, citing a response given by Home Office minister Vernon Coaker MP who said "We look for evidence to support our policy decisions."

Mark describes the expert talk as 'extremely significant' and says:
"The government can keep sacking people who tell the truth but it cannot go on ignoring the reality of the pernicious effects of their drugs policies for ever."
Elsewhere, for a sidelong view at the subject, Jim Beeer thinks the current war on drugs is a waste of time because it simply misses the real targets and wastes huge amounts of scarce resources in a never-ending cycle of pointless repression.

He ends his plea for compromise with the depressing thought:
"Of course that’ll never happen in this pathetic country. There’s too many ignorant people here. And everyone knows that ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side."

Oranjepan asks:
Whether or not you are a dope fiend your life is directly and indirectly affected by the far-reaching consequences of the law, so are you sufficiently swayed by the evidence, or do you think there are other aspects to consider?

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Background: Round-Up: The Drugs Debate

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