Monday, November 02, 2009

Message to Alan Johnson: Advisers Advise, Ministers Decide

Despairing Liberal has a go at me in the comments for not commenting on Alan Johnson's sacking of David Nutt. He says...

"Why do you have nothing at all to say on the big news of today, eg, the lamentable ignorance of the NuLab machinery being unable to distinguish between scientific advice and their own need to counter-spin cheap Daily Mail headlines? Oh, I just realised, could it be because the Tories are themselves supporting the sacking of Professor Nutt? How pathetic can you get."

Strangely, I don't feel compelled to comment on every single issue in the news. Especially on day when I have had a full day's work to attend to - you know, the kind of work that keeps Gio in Pedegree Chum.

But since I am now on a train home with bugger all better to do except listen to the man next to me snore, I'll give you a few pearls.

As I tweeted earlier, this is one of those issues where it is genuinely possible to see both sides of the story. Unfortunately, it has become polarised between those who want to see drugs legalised and those who don't, rather than what it should be - a debate about the role of government advisers.

I can entirely understand Alan Johnson's frustration with Professor Nutt. But was it right to sack him in such a peremptory fashion? He did it by email for God's sake. Coward. No, it wasn't right. Advisers advise and Ministers decide. This decision bore the hallmark of a Home Secretary who is not confident enough in his own position that he is even willing to debate it.

If your scientific advisers advise one thing, and you as a minister do another, then the right thing to do is deploy the force of argument to justify your decision. The wrong thing to do is to stick your fingers in your ear and shut 'la la la, not listening' and then sack the adviser.

The other problem here is consistency of message. There are only two positions on drugs. You either believe they are a menace and a danger, in which case you categorise them accordingly. Or you believe that a war on drugs can never be effectively fought, let alone won. In that case, you decriminalise.

Unfortunately this government has sent out very mixed messages and appeared to suggest that cannabis isn't in fact that harmful, and then a couple of years later decided that it is.

Now we have got the worst of all worlds. Thanks to Charles Clarke, Jacqui Smith and now Alan Johnson.

Alan Johnson lost a lot of goodwill this weekend. He thought he was acting the strong man. On the contrary. He showed himself to be in a position of weakness.


Surreptitious Evil said...

The Home Office actually published the report - expecting a scientist to disown their findings because the Minister decided (as is his right) that political preference was the over-riding consideration in the law-making - is Johnson's offence.

If they wanted the advice to be private, why publish?

(Yes, I know, FoIA.)

Mark Reckons said...

Iain. You said:

"There are only two positions on drugs. You either believe they are a menace and a danger, in which case you categorise them accordingly. Or you believe that a war on drugs can never be effectively fought, let alone won. In that case, you decriminalise."

There are lots of people who think that it is precisely because drugs can be dangerous that they need to be legally regulated. Leaving them in the hands of criminal gangs is an abrogation of our responsibility and is the opposite of being "tough on drugs".

Paul Halsall said...

I agree that Alan Johnson has come out of this a big loser.

His problem is that there are really very good arguments to decriminalize drugs, or at least take a "harm reduction" approach as in Portugal.

I am certainly in the decriminalise camp, but Nutt was not just an advisor, he was chairman of a *statutory body* where the statute as it stands dictates than drugs be penalised according to the harm they cause. That harm is meant to be assessed "scientifically" not by political whim.

PS: I would never give my dog anything less than IAMS!

Frugal Dougal said...

Personally, as a former drugs worker, I'm in the unusual position of supporting Mr Johnson's action in firing Nutt. My only criticism is, as you say, his indecision: Labour should have kicked him out when he pulled the "equasy" stunt.

Duncan Stott said...

I don't see how your two positions are mutually exclusive. Drugs are a menace and a danger, but a war on them can't be won.

Most advocates of decriminalisation (or even better legalisation) acknowlage the menace/danger presented by drugs, but conclude that it is even more important for them to be controlled by government under a legal framework, rather than controlled by criminal gangs, which is a recipe for chaos.

The whole issue surrounding Nutt's dismissal has not been about prohibition/legalisation. It has been about whether drugs have been categorised appropriately. That is what Nutt has been frustrated about. We currently have the nonsensical situation where the government 'sending out the message' that heroin is as dangerous as ecstasy. The 2.3 million people who have used ecstasy (using the government's 'logic') will think that using heroin will have a similar level of risk.

Keith Elliott said...

"There are only two positions on drugs. You either believe they are a menace and a danger, in which case you categorise them accordingly. Or you believe that a war on drugs can never be effectively fought, let alone won. In that case, you decriminalise."

That is simplistic tosh.

Nutt's argument is not that Cannibis, for example, is not potentially dangerous to some people, but that alcohol (amongst other 'legal' drugs) are more dangerous.

A war on drugs can no more be won than a war on terrorism. You can however, legislate and classify, to manage and minimise the negative effects.

Simon said...

Spot on

Stephen Morris said...

I agree with your comments on Alan Johnson. I don't agree that this is between those who want to legalise drugs and those who don't.
A category C drug is harmful and illegal. Cannabis fits into this category. It is a weakness of Government that they have accepted the Daily Mail premise that category C means not harmful and is therefore being weak on drugs.
What you do about any drug, regardless of it's level of harm and which category it is in, is a matter of policy and will be influenced by many factors. There is no reason why Government can't be tough on cannabis even while it is category C.
I think the polarisation is between people who think categorisation is about sending messages (and therefore political) and people who see it as being a scientific input into policy, to be considered alongside other considerations.

Anonymous said...

Hi Iain,

He's sending out a mixed message on the role of a government advisor.

In the McKinnon debate he said he wasn't legally trained but was a "hack politician" and was relying on legal advice.

He is not scientifically trained either but seems happy to try to silence Professor Nutt.

I've blogged about it:

Plenty said...

I really don't think the war on drugs will ever be won. Where there is demand for a product, there will always be a supplier willing to make fast buck. Humans are humans, and we all have an addictive personality to something, whether that be booze, drugs, gambling, women, or anything else that could be classed as an addiction. Just remember every time the government dither over an issue, it gives the dealers the excuse to sell more because they can say, 'well if the government don't know or think it's dangerous, then we'll sell more.' I really do believe that what happens at the top, filters down to the bottom. In this case, dithering has been this governments number one character trait....

Anonymous said...

"Professor Nutt was not sacked for his views, which I respect but disagree with," Alan Johnson wrote to the Guardian.

"He was asked to go because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy."

He expressed similar sentiments in the Commons today, where he recieved support from the Conservatives.

"I have lost confidence in Professor Nutt's abilty to be my principle advisor on drugs," he told MPs. "His dismissal is not a reflection on the work of the committee."

Sounds fair enough.

James D said...

And the big winner is Dr James Gordon Brown, who put Alan Johnson in the worst job in Whitehall amidst all the leadership contest rumours. He must be rubbing his hands in glee (or his nearest approximation thereof) at Johnson so spectacularly and unnecessarily shooting himself in the foot.

Anonymous said...

Tosh. Johnson showed sense and courage, and stood up to the Tory Troll Media as a Minisiter should.

When it comes to drugs impressionable kids are at risk, and Nutt seems to care little about that, while Johnson, who correctly ditched him for his unhealthy campaigning, is inhibited from making clear the full reasons why he got rid.

Make a fuss about cannabis, LSD, ecstasy and more kids will use them. Make out that they are safer and tobacco & ditto.

Now it takes commonsense to assess that the dangers from illegal drugs are varied, don't requite solely great peer group reviewed science.

Marijhuana is supposedly less carcinogenic than tobacco. Strike one to Nutt.

If you are on the road and some teenager is driving with a gang of his mates in his car, you would be unhappy to learn that he is smoking anything . . but . . . which would substance would put you most at risk?

What is quite clear is that Nutt has behaved disgracefully and stupidly, as so many parents, especially those who have lost children will know.

Best just to say No.

Weygand said...

Full marks to Alan Johnson.

How can a government formulate and implement a consistent policy, if advisers are grabbing headlines with their contradictory soundbites.

The boffins have ridiculed poor AJ for not understanding science but it is they whose understanding is wanting.

The science is easy. Observe, create hypothesis, constantly test hypothesis, knowing that you can never conclusively prove a scientific fact only conclusively disprove them.

The politics is the tricky bit. Leaving aside that scientific debates are never conclusuvely determined - What do you do with the science you have. At what stage do you act on it, what social policies should follow, how might they be made to work in a democratic society when there are competing values of individual liberty etc etc and competing social goals?

In this context, only a twit would compare the dangers of drug use with horse-riding. It is not that the statistics are wrong but that there is no equivalence between the two activities. One is potentially beneficial to society as a whole, the other hardly so. This kind of nonsense muddies the political debate, it does not advance it.

Once government policy has been made, the advisors may challenge it, but they will have no special status by virtue of being scientists because it is not the science that is being questioned. The issue is what you do about the science and their opinion on the social, political benefits of government policies are worth as much or as little as that of every citizen.

Scrobs... said...

Johnson - parachuted in as a 'candidate' for leadership of a sinking vessel, never really in the reckoning for any post above the level of second drainage minister, and now hopelessly out of his depth, and showing it with those blushing cheeks, and inarticulate gabbling.

A man unable to understand much more than following the stains on the carpet from previous 'home - (second home/caravan/asylum) secretaries', intent on misunderstanding just about anything which they should do to protect the citizens of UK inc from harm in this failing fair land.

Johnson is the epitome of the failure of Brown's desperate attempts to have anybody of worth in his deranged cabinet, and has now, especially after the 'Adam ' show, locked away his chances of anything more exciting than parish clerk in a busted flush of an empty village, perhaps...

Diary of a nobody - Hansard's recall of Johnson's achievements.

Lady Finchley said...

The Advisory Council was always top loaded with pro-drug advisors such as Nutt and they ran rings around Jack Straw when he was Home Sec as well as Blunkett - it was in their time that grass was relegated to Cat C. Nutt has always had his own agenda which flew in the face of Professor Robin Murray's (Institute of Psychiatry)findings about cannabis and schizophrenia. The Home Sec was right to sack him as he and the rest of his homies on the team were only ever interested in their own agenda. These are the same people who advised that Khat, smoked by the Somalians should not be outlawed even though it is very dangerous because smoking khat was 'part of their culture'. Pure bullcrap.

Anonymous said...

Though I agree with Prof. Nutt's conclusions on what is a very personal matter of morality I'm a bit turned off by his showboating style of celebrity science. Celebrity politics with Blair and Obama has been bad enough.

What can we expect next, a reality TV show, Britain's Got Scientists?

iain said...

Legalise drugs.

Yeah, and when there's a big football match Tesco will have a floor to ceiling stack of crack cocaine.

The legalisers really haven't thought it through, have they.

The argument that drugs should be legalised because 'the war on drugs is not being won' is strangling logic to within an inch of its life.

Maybe Churchill should have said, 'The war's not going very well so we'd better surrender.'

bill hilton said...

The main problem is nobody seems quite clear on what Nutt did and did not do.

Basically, it seems to boil down to three things he wrote: a paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, a paper in the Lancet and the CCJS speech which was turned into a pamphlet.

Nutt wrote all of those as part of his (paid) day job, viz. being a professor of pharmacology. Now, if HMG starts dictating what he may and may not say in academic papers and lectures - and that's what these were - it puts him in a position where he can no longer be a fully effective professional scientist.

That's why all these boffins are getting the hump and resigning - not because they want to legalise cannabis and ecstasy, but because they see a Home Secretary who wants them to sacrifice a key method of scientific advance in the name of "a message".

Johnson, it seems, doesn't understand that mindset. Or rather, he does now, and has got himself trapped. His major advantage is that most other people don't understand it, either - witness the dismal display of thickness in the Commons this afternoon.

Rebecca Morris said...

Surely the question to ask is whether it's the tobacco, ecstacy, cannabis or alcohol that is causing vast numbers of our youth to vote for the ghastly untalented twins....

And the day when a politician of any party stands up and sacks any of these eco-loon advisers who want to tax us all into hypothermia then I will give them my unquestioning vote.

Chrysippus said...

Failed postman sacks renowned academic....


Anonymous said...

The postie dropped his heavy postbag on his foot! Some prime ministerial material! The Tories should have let him to drown by saying that they do not know the whole story.

John K said...

"Advisers advise and ministers decide"

Fair enough.

But these are not political "advisers". They are an expert Council from a range of fields, established with a specific remit under an Act of Parliament - the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971).

This states in terms:

"(2) It shall be the duty of the Advisory Council to keep under review the situation in the United Kingdom with respect to drugs which are being or appear to them likely to be misused and of which the misuse is having or appears to them capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem, and to give to any one or more of the Ministers, where either the Council consider it expedient to do so or they are consulted by the Minister or Ministers in question, advice on measures (whether or not involving alteration of the law) which in the opinion of the Council ought to be taken for preventing the misuse of such drugs or dealing with social problems connected with their misuse, and in particular on measures which in the opinion of the Council ought to be taken-

(a) for restricting the availability of such drugs or supervising the arrangements for their supply;
(b) for enabling persons affected by the misuse of such drugs to obtain proper advice, and for securing the provision of proper facilities and services for the treatment, rehabilitation and after-care of such persons;
(c) for promoting co-operation between the various professional and community services which in the opinion of the Council have a part to play in dealing with social problems connected with the misuse of such drugs;
(d) for educating the public (and in particular the young) in the dangers of misusing such drugs, and for giving publicity to those dangers; and
(e) for promoting research into, or otherwise obtaining information about, any matter which in the opinion of the Council is of relevance for the purpose of preventing the misuse of such drugs or dealing with any social problem connected with their misuse."

Seems to me that this puts Prof. Nutt in the clear. He was acting entirely within his remit as Chair of the Advisory Council.

The problem here is that the politicians (and your own party are behaving just as shamefully here, Iain) don't like expert opinion unless it confirms what they already want or have decided to do.

[with thanks to the blogger on Mark Easton's BBC blog who pointed this out].

Ean Craigie said...

Iain you have got it right, its not about the drugs its about who makes the descisions and having watched the good professor on the news this morning he is not the one. By sacking the Nutt by e-mail Alan Johnson showed why this government is so corrupt, a worse group of faux bullies and third rate intellects one could not find, but the Professor was wrong he advises only.

Wallenstein said...

In business if you're asked by your senior management team for a recommendation on a particular issue they might well reject the "right" decision on the basis that it would be poor PR for the firm.

If you make representations to your line manager about your displeasure that's fine, but if you go stomping around telling everyone you meet that it was the wrong decision then chances are you will not be asked back to the Board Room, and you'd stand a reasonable chance of being booted out of the firm.

Anyway, it's strange how when the Govt follow their experts' advice on climate change they are slated by the court of public opinion, yet when they follow public opinion (and let's face it most people still think that a tab of LSD is more harmful than a pint of IPA) they are slammed for ignoring the advice.

Damned if you do... etc.

wv: chyla - a particularly potent strain of Paraguayan skunk

Mirtha Tidville said...

Johnson is a populist without being much else, note his speech tonight re immigration...Populists follow the anyone, other than Dr Nutt, really suprised ....

Peter said...

Is it not better for Government not to have its own experts and advisers but simply observe and listen to experts in the field and then decide what action to take.
The resulting action is likely to be more balanced and less biased.

Thatsnews said...

I was reading the address by Professor 'I'm an expert, me!' Nutt, when I noticed that he made a fairly major mistake in his evidence.

It happened to be about something I knew about.

I am a layman, Nutt is an expert. I knew that Nutt was wrong. But if Nutt is an expert, how could he be so wrong?

Nutt claimed LSD had never had any medical use. This is wrong. It has been used in medical treatments.

If this is one fact Nutt got wrong, what else has he got wrong? And why?

Jess The Dog said...

Nutt is a scientist who inhabits a world of hypothesis, experiment, publication and peer review. Dissent, conflict and argument underpin scientific debate.

This does not sit well with the political process and Alan Johnson should have known this. He should have accepted Nutt's right to comment in public, and made it clear the government has the right to take it or leave it when formulating policy, rather than trying to disown scientific research and sack the messenger.

Gallimaufry said...

Slightly off topic, but does anyone remember the scientist who said it would be ok to feed animal protein to cattle and thus help cause the BSE epidemic? I am pretty sure a Minister or his political advisers didn't think up the idea of cannibal cows.

Anonymous said...

Funny knowbody mentions UKIP:

Anonymous said...

Alan Johnsons decision to sack a scientific adviser is pretty pathetic, both by the means of dismissal (by e-mail) and for the reason for his dismisal; that he undermined the policy making of government. I would hope that advisers did, on occasions, undermine government if it facilitated debate. Indeed, Mr Dale is correct to point out that Johnson should have solved this problem through the power of argument rather than the power of e-mail.

On a second note however, I dont think this debarcle is about the role of government advisers. This debarcle is about the way debate is moulded in regards to Government drugs policy. Its a shame Dale sees it in such black and white terms ie. a) drugs are a menace and a danger thus criminalise and categorise accordingly, and b)the war on drugs will never be won and therefore we should decriminalise. The argument to decriminalise drugs is not a defeatist one as Dale suggests, rather it is one which accepts that drug addiction is a health problem in itself and is often a result, or reaction, to series of other factors such as abuse (whether physical, mental or sexual) in childhood amongst a raft of other issues. Surely we should be addressing this problem, rather than viewing drugs as something external that wonder the streets preying on innocent victims and turn them into monsters.

DocRichard said...

Basically, the Professor was preaching heresy - evidence based reform of drugs law. I mean, since when did the Home Secretary have to worry about evidence?

NeoLiberal said...


"In this context, only a twit would compare the dangers of drug use with horse-riding. It is not that the statistics are wrong but that there is no equivalence between the two activities. One is potentially beneficial to society as a whole, the other hardly so."

Spare me this nonsense please. I have and continue to have loads of amazing experiences from drugs, just as people have greats nights out when they're drunk. How about you let me put on some "I, Claudius" and have a spliff and I'll let you do... whatever it is you do to unwind after a hard day at work. Maybe a little drinkie, eh? After all, we British like to drink our drugs, not smoke them!

And by the way he two activities are completely comparable. Both activities are not essential for anyone, are done for enjoyment, and carry risks. That's it. The rest is up to individual choice, and it's a choice that's going to be a hell of lot better informed if he listen to a little more of Prof Nutt's statistics and a little less of whatever line the government's third-rate minister of the day has decided to push as his or her "message".

And yes, Iain is correct that this has moved in to a debate about the wisdom of the government's drug policy. It's always going to because that's the elephant in the room. A massive, hypocritical, uninformed, ineffective, spiteful and just down right stupid elephant that shows no sign of ever leaving. :(

Wrinkled Weasel said...

This is not about drugs is it? It's about hegemony and truth.

When the truth becomes inconvenient, the need to hold the balance of power outweighs it.

There are parallels with defense procurement. The conflict, in both the case of drugs and the case of helicopters and the like is one of narrative; this is a fundamental battle about information. Ministers would prefer the public to see things in terms of very stark choices, not the 49/51 choices that might allow some to equivocate and fall on the wrong side of the fence.

Scientists always equivocate. Only the bad ones make cast iron cases (which is why they get into hot water in court)

Scientists are in the wrong arena, that is, the political arena. Time after time, factual data has to be "sexed up" in order to sell it to the general population. People don't buy probabilities, they buy certainties, which is why the war in Iraq had to be presented in such glib and morally anodyne terms.

David Nutt has not been sacked for being political, he has been sacked for not being political.

..Silicon Implant!! said...

@Thatsnews: Point of order - various trendy psychotherapists in the 50's and 60's experimented with LSD. However, this was not always rigourous research, and when proper trials were conducted, acid was found not to actually treat the psychological conditions it was being touted for, and very occasionally caused new and worse ones. It currently has no known therapeutic use.

People can 'believe' all they want that "drugs are bad m'okay". But if you go into the darkest remotest part of the amazon jungle and find the lostest of lost tribes, they will have found a way of using some part of the flora and fauna around them for the sole and ostemsibly unproductive purpose of getting completely out of their tiny gourds. It strikes me, then, that consumption of mood altering substances is part of the human condition rather than some evil to be puritanically stamped out, especially since any serious attempt to do so seems to be intensely counterproductive.

@Weygand, The difference between horse riding and dropping an 'E', is apparently that one is an expensive, pointless and risky recreational activity that you approve of and would presumably be happy to see made safer, the other is an expensive, pointless and equally risky recreational activity that you disapprove of and would like to see made more dangerous if possible.

@Quietzapple, you haven't got to guess about whether pothead drivers are worse than drunk drivers, because the issue has been researched. Cannabis using drivers are equally as impaired as drunk drivers but are much safer because they are more aware of the degree of their impairment and not infused with the bravado that alchohol creates. So, given the choice between being driven home by or meeting a pothead or a drunk on the road, I'd rather walk - but if that wasn't an option, only a suicidal maniac would take a lift with the drunk... which rather support's Professor Nutt's point.

If Johnson had been honest and said 'The science says that cannabis should be 'Class C', but the people whose budgets and headcounts and pensions depend on the war on drugs continuing to be fought vigorously and indefinitely without pause for any rational consideration were pouting and sighing too much so I had to reclassify it anyway', then Nutt wouldn't have embarrassed him in the first place. What he actually did was bang on about reefer Madness as the excuse for winding the clock back...

silicet1-online said...

Can we think a bit about the science?

Unless hundreds of thousands of people were enrolled in prospective randomized controlled trials for a number of years, some on placebos, some on different types of and combinations of substances for varying periods, and this experiment was repeated in lots of other countries in a massive international mega-trial, we can't begin to get close to the truth on how these substances affect the general population.

And trials like that can't be done.

So, hopefully using the best data available (nearly all collected retrospectively) scientists try to do the best they can with what they have got. They'll agree that their methodology isn't ideal and different studies will yield different results, but part of their job is to review all the findings and try to reach a consensus on what conclusions can be drawn from the studies they chose to include in their review. What they can't reach agreement on, of course, is what they don't know because the studies didn't give them access to data or it wasn't collected.

The committee might have been more cautious in its recommendations. The government more open to advice.

Thatsnews said...

But Silicon Implant, LSD was licensed as a medical drug. And was used as such by a varying group of people, some way out, some normal. Professor Nutt should have known about this but didn't.

If he HAD known about it he would have said: "It was licensed as a medial drug, but was not widely used." He didn't. He said it had no medical use. He was in error.

He offers flawed advice. What use is that?

Lady Finchley said...

Crikey - there a lot of old hippies on this thread today. Ones who can't tell the difference between grass we had back in the day and the noxious skunk that exists now. As for E, it might not kill you outright but it wrecks your mind, makes you extremely paranoid. I worked in the music business where taking drugs is de rigeur for over 25 years and I have seen the casualties. Also most of the men I know in their 50s are either dead from heart attacks - too much coke - or walking around with stents and by-passes for the same reason. This is why Nutt is a nut - he's irresponsible as are the rest of his homies on the Council.

And I wonder why legalising it would make a difference? This by the way, doesn't mean alcohol is harmless but we are not talking about alcohol here anyway.

Anonymous said...

@ Silicon

Those whom your teen hop heads hit don't get much choice in the matter, do they? And I doubt the extent of the research you quote.

Usual crass defence of the "right" to self destructiveness.

Nutt's self promo campaign will have brought more children to illegal drugs and accidents.

Already I hear the the medias' take on Prof Nutt's campaign is being quoted by a friend's son.

A disgrace that people use the issue as a football.

JuliaM said...

"When it comes to drugs impressionable kids are at risk..."

'For the chiiiilllldreeeen!'

DespairingLiberal said...

Thanks for commenting and I agree with a lot of what you said Iain.

You didn't however comment on the (apparent - reported as) Conservative position that they support the dismissal. Is this true?

The facts underlying this are as follows:

(1) Professor Nutt makes a throwaway remark about "taking ecstasy being less dangerous than horse riding" at the end of a long and highly argued paper in a scientific journal.

(2) This is picked up by the Daily Mail, who turn it into a story.

(3) The "Thick of It" style of news management kicks in and Johnson sacks him without so much as a discussion in order to satisfy the Mail.

(4) A subplot is that Nutt appears to have riled Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol and no government, including apparently the Tories, can allow that.

Er, that's it.

So much for reasoned evidence-based government.

DespairingLiberal said...

Silicon Implant, there is extensive material on the internet to support Thatsnews's assertion - see for example the Wikipedia article on LSD as a starting point, which includes this segment:

"Introduced by Sandoz Laboratories, with trade-name Delysid, as a drug with various psychiatric uses in 1947, LSD quickly became a therapeutic agent that appeared to show great promise"

I think it's likely though Thatsnews that Prof. Nutt does know about this, he was simply being disparaging about it as it was later taken off the market once it was shown to not work.

DespairingLiberal said...

There does seem to be some evidence that Nutt was not in trouble until he started unfavourably comparing the negative effects of alcohol and nicotine with those of ecstasy and cannabis. I think this will be at the heart of his sacking and it's also why the Tory highups support it. They don't want this to be publicly aired too much.

The main cause of death from heroin and cocaine is of course the activities of the criminal gangs that do the trafficking. So on that level I am in favour of controlled legalisation as it would at least do away with the whole ghastly industry of murder and mayhem that is currently undermining and destroying whole countries in Latin America, not to mention being an underlying cause of the Taliban.

Legalisation in some places has been well run, with clinics that addicts have to check into to get their clean, medically tested fix, with gradual weaning off programmes.

Where they do this, local crime has also fallen sharply as the poorer addicts no longer need to steal to feed their habits.

NeoLiberal said...

Lady Finchley,

"Crikey - there a lot of old hippies on this thread today. Ones who can't tell the difference between grass we had back in the day and the noxious skunk that exists now."

Haha, "noxious"! That's almost as insidious as when Gordon Brown twice referred to skunk as "lethal". It isn't lethal in the slightest of course. The strongest strains of cannabis are still nothing compared with being drunk, which you'd know if you'd read any of the scientific literature.

Oh, and I'm not a hippy. I'm a middle-class graduate who leans right of centre on most issues, pays way more than his fair share of tax and will probably vote Tory at the next election, even if their drugs policy is as stupid and counter-productive as Labour's.

The "hippy" comment really gives you away though - you don't give a damn about the health consequences of skunk. You just use it as a pretext for indulging your own stereotyped prejudices against young people.

Weygand said...

@ Silicon et al

Although I have only been on a horse twice in my life and am no expert, I can see many potential social benefits.

It can teach one (especially children) about respect for animals, be a form of physical exercise, develop physical co-ordination and open up that part of the world that lies beyond the shopping centre and the computer screen. In short contribute to the physical and mental health of individuals and through them be a social benefit.

As a daily consumer of great quantities of alcohol, I do not feel able to pontificate against the evils of drugs but it would seem obvious that neither drugs nor alcohol (which are essentially hedonistic activities) could be treated as having any meaningful equivalence with horse riding in the context of social benefit.

Few families are ruined by an abuse of horse riding - but many are destroyed or impaired by the abuse of alcohol and drugs.

The reason that the false comparison matters is that it obscures the way we should calculate risk. This is not based simply what is the percentage risk but how this relates to the potential gain/loss by doing or not doing something.

Confusing the picture makes it less likely that people will make a proper judgement and is why the Nutty Professor had to go.

neil craig said...

"There are only two positions on drugs. You either believe they are a menace and a danger, in which case you categorise them accordingly. Or you believe that a war on drugs can never be effectively fought, let alone won. In that case, you decriminalise."

May I put forward a 3rd which may also be Professor Nutt's:

That some of them are a serious menace & danger & some of them are a minor danger, comparable for example with horse riding. But that at the same time the "war on drugs" cannot be won & by forcing up the price encourages crime against us all. That being run by criminals means the drugs themselves are of variable strength & purity which causes far more deaths than would happen if they were sold in the consistent levels of purity they would be if Boots were selling them.

Of course there are few absolute answers & legalisiation would probably increase sales (though not certainly - antbody remember CB radio). On the 5th hand liberals believe government should not restrict people's freedom unless they can be quite certain they are doing more good than harm.

Unsworth said...

@ Silicon

"If Johnson had been honest"

And that is the root cause of this furore. But who are we to expect the slightest honesty and integrity from our elected representatives, eh?

And to those who point out that LSD has previously been prescribed - yes, so was arsenic.

It's just possible that Nutt's choice of term 'use' - might have been better expressed as 'value'.

Nigel said...

So advisers advise, and politicians decide.
Strange how few MPs were able to apply that logic to the 'advice' they received from the fees office on fiddling their expenses.
Professor Nutt was an unpaid, independent advisor, not a civil servant employed by the Home Office. That he should be dismissed from his post for declining to participate in a piece of political theatre is disgraceful.

As far as the cannabis debate is concerned, I'm sorry to see you siding with the Prohibitionists, Iain. I don't smoke pot, and don't particularly approve of those who do, but Prohibition is imbecilic policy. It criminalizes the otherwise law abiding, massively enriches the worst criminal elements of our society, and wastes the resources of the criminal justice system.
All for the votes of a few Daily Mail readers.

Given the very large proportion of the population who have smoked pot with no more deleterious effect than to bore their friends senseless, it simply isn't credible to argue that it is "a menace and a danger" any more than is the display of cheap Australian red wine in Tescos.
As both your own party leader, and the current US President have demonstrated, the most likely way pot might have ruined their lives was being caught by the laws designed to stop drugs ruining their lives.
There is, as Nutt inconveniently pointed out, a massive disconnect between the harmful effects of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis, and their legal treatment.

License, tax, regulate. We've had enough practice with alcohol and tobacco to know how.
Anything else is organised hypocrisy.
And ruins lives.

Anonymous said...

In the '80s when I was on a Council with lots of Independents and Tories I was asked by tory wanna be hop heads for cannabis. (I had long hair)

I suggested they try pubs where hippies hung out if they really were that keen.

We should expect at least a temporary increase in national cannabis consumption if drugs were legalised. In Holland, where the situation is not that simple, it seems that all sorts of other drugs have become more popular than they are here.

Worth considering that drug companies are into profits as well as drug purity, and, we should not expect a collapse in the price of some drugs if La Roche et al were marketing through Boots.

And because some drugs would still be expensive, perhaps specially taxed, there would be a market in substitutes/poor quality drugs which would be less lucrative than now, and probably still more dangerous so far as the quality of the drugs.

Lady Finchley said...

Your really are running away with yourself, Neo-Liberal. Can't you read? I worked in the music business for 25 years and know first hand the effects of skunk and E. You need to read up on other points of informed view such as Dr Robin Murray before you accuse me of having prejudices against young people. One in five schizos are heavy skunk users - put that in your doobie and smoke it. You need to grow up, sweetie - you are quite hysterical.

DocRichard said...

"There are only two positions on drugs. You either believe they are a menace and a danger, in which case you categorise them accordingly".

This was that Nutt was doing. He sas trying to measure their risk objectively, and then wanted the law to be amended to reflect the risk. He also reflected on the morality of the situation. He set his views out at a scientific meeting, and was defenestrated for it.

Either we have a scientific, grown up basis to drug law, or we carry on with the present irrational and absurd ABC system.

Hmmm...decisions, decisions.

NeoLiberal said...

"One in five schizos are heavy skunk users - put that in your doobie and smoke it."

This is a classic case of using statistics as a drunk uses a lamppost. Firstly, heavy use of anything is going to give you problems. Secondly, if you actually cared about the risk, you'd find out the proportion of skunk users that develop schizophrenia, not the other way around!

But this all supposes there is actually a CAUSAL relationship between skunk and schizophrenia, and not even Dr Murray would go as far to say that. So I think I will smoke your statistic, it's certainly fit for burning.

Anonymous said...

JuliaM, who seems to display a banana as an avatar, might note that I don't talk as she suggests.

Was she trying to suggest QuietzapplEnts tap our collective noses and say "Oi vey!" a lot?

Lady Finchley said...

NeoLiberal - have you actually read anything by Dr Murray or did any research as I have done? I doubt it - you're just a little snotnose who just HAS to be right. Run along, little boy.

Denny said...

"There are only two positions on drugs. You either believe they are a menace and a danger, in which case you categorise them accordingly. Or you believe that a war on drugs can never be effectively fought, let alone won. In that case, you decriminalise."

Or you believe it's none of anyone else's god damned business what I do with my own body.

Why do people actually swallow this tripe? If we took this logic seriously, the government should imprison anyone who does anything to shortern their life span or reduce their medically defined health. The only excuse for not doing so would be if the enforcement weren't effective enough (I guess that's what put paid to the death penalty for suicides).

In fact, the best way to do this with absolute effectiveness would be to actually imprison everybody and have their lives run by a team of scientist warders.

That might appeal to you if you're some kind of Nazi/communist nut (or a New Labour minister). But most people believe, however inconsistently they apply it, that people own themselves, and have a right to do with their body what they wish without interference from others. It isn't about science at all; it is about simple morality.

The best argument the prohibitionists can come up with on this thread is that drugs are not "socially useful" or "beneficial for society". In other words, they don't like people who take drugs. So that means they can imprison them for a totally non-violent activity, because they're too weak to defend themselves. These people are thugs, plain and simple.

So yes, legalise drugs. Don't tax them. Don't regulate them. Just have the state **** off.

Anonymous said...

A first argument vs cannabis is the result on our society of a large group of increasingly vague people, some of them calling themselves "libertarians," filling up its threads with nonsense.

Small wonder:

Academic performance of school children who smoke cannabis daily deteriorates; they have a chronic low-grade intoxication.

Time to say No! Again.

Lady Finchley said...

That's right Denny - I don't like junkies who rob me to feed their filthy habit. I don't like crack addicts who abuse and neglect their children. My heart breaks when I hear about somebody's son has ruined his life because of his addiction to skunk. And have YOU ever had to deal with somebody whose tiny mind was addled by coke? We are a society and we do not live in isolation. Get real.

Nigel said...

So Finchley,
you are a strong believer in treating possession of cannabis as a serious criminal offense.

You "worked in the music business for 25 years and know first hand the effects of skunk and E."

How many of those serious criminals did you report to the police ?

Or are you a mere scofflaw ?

Lady Finchley said...

No, Nigel, I don't. Don't be so facetious. What I do know is the harm that skunk can do - I have witnessed it first hand - and E as well. Of course not everyone will experience these effects because there are degrees of addiction and not everyone reacts the same way. Therefore it is irresponsible of Nutt to dismiss it as less harmful than riding a horse.

Nigel said...

>>No, Nigel, I don't. <<

You don't what ?

>>Don't be so facetious.<<

I'm not being facetious.

Just pointing out the glaring inconsistency of your position.
If you believe it's right that possession of cannabis is a serious criminal offense - and you have argued for that pretty vehemently - then you should have been turning in those users that you claim to have "first hand experience of" over twenty five years.

Or are you not quite the expert you present yourself as ?

You may run along now, dearie.

Lady Finchley said...

Not only are you facetious but quite ignorant too. I never anywhere said that smoking cannabis was a serious crime - what I did say was that Nutt was irresponsible in his views. Learn to read, why don't you?

Nigel said...

>>never anywhere said that smoking cannabis was a serious crime<<

Classification as Class B - which you support - means that possession is punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years.

Seems fairly serious to me.

Lady Finchley said...

Nigel, if you knew anything about the criminal justice system you'd know that the police have discretion which most of them use most of the time.

In my view it needs to be class B for no other reason that to raise awareness because there is valid scientific proof as well as empirical evidence about the effects of skunk. Same goes for coke and E. I can reel of the names of loads of my contemporaries who have died or have become physically and in some cases mentally impaired by drugs. You simply cannot say la-di-da they don't hurt anybody because they do - some more than others. People need to be aware of the facts - it is then up to them to make the decision.

Anonymous said...

A friend who knows a bit about South Africa, where keef is in very common use, suggests that a society with this drug culture is doomed.