Skip to main content

Europe: More British Drug Policy Experts Resign in Protest from Government Advisory Board

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #627)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

Two more members of the British government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) have resigned in the last week, citing the Labor government's emphasis on politics over evidence-based policy making. That brings to seven the number of ACMD members who have resigned since former ACMD head Professor David Nutt was sacked last fall.

Home Minister Alan Johnson fired Nutt after Nutt repeatedly criticized the government's decision to ignore the ACMD's advice and reschedule marijuana as a more dangerous drug. Johnson also took umbrage at Nutt's assertion that taking ecstasy was less dangerous than horse riding.

Nutt's firing provoked the immediate resignation of two other members of the committee, Dr. Les King and Marion Walker, followed a week later by three more: Dr. Simon Campbell, Dr. Ian Ragan and Dr. John Marsden. A seventh member, Dr. Polly Taylor, the veterinary specialist on the panel, resigned two weeks ago, ahead of the council's crucial meeting on mephedrone last week, in protest of new guidelines that said scientific advisors could be fired if they "undermined" the government.

Mephedrone, a so far legal stimulant derived from cathinone, which users say has similar effects to cocaine or ecstasy, has been the object of a media frenzy in Great Britain in recent weeks, with press reports breathlessly linking it to a number of deaths. Those reports are so far unsubstantiated, but that didn't stop the government from announcing it would move to ban it this month.

It was the mephedrone issue that finally drove ACMD member Dr Eric Carlin to add his name to the list of now former ACMD members. In his resignation letter to Home Minister Johnson, Carlin lambasted the government and the ACMD for bowing to political and media pressure on scheduling mephedrone.

Real ACMD business got pushed aside because of "the haste with which we were being pushed to make a decision about classifying Mephedrone; this so that the chair could come to meet with you later in the day and you could do a round of press announcements," Carlin wrote. "We had little or no discussion about how our recommendation to classify this drug would be likely to impact on young people's behavior. Our decision was unduly based on media and political pressure. The report was tabled to the whole council for the first time on Monday; the chair came to brief you before the whole council had even discussed all of the report. In fact, I still haven't seen the final version," Carlin complained.

Saying that "we need to review our whole approach to drugs," Carlin argued that legally sanctioned punishments should not be the "main part of the armory" in addressing drug problems. He added that he had decided not to resign over the sacking of Nutt last fall, "preferring instead to see how things panned out and to hope that the ACMD could develop a work program which would help prevent and reduce harm, particularly to young people. I have no confidence that this will now happen, largely though not totally due to the lack of logic of the context within which the council is constrained to operate by the Misuse of Drugs Act," he wrote. "I am not prepared to continue to be part of a body which, as its main activity, works to facilitate the potential criminalization of increasing numbers of young people."

The dispute between dissident ACMD members and the Labor government has highlighted a deeper argument over the nature of the relationship between the government and the scientists who advise it. Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at Oxford, told The Independent that the furor over mephedrone pointed to "a crisis in the government's use of evidence potentially as serious as that produced by mad cow disease 20 years ago."

In the case of mad cow, British ministers offered false assurances on the safety of beef which went beyond the available evidence. When it emerged that some people had contracted mad cow disease from infected beef, trust in the government collapsed.

"I think there's been terrible pressure to come to a resolution about mephedrone -- inappropriate pressure," Professor Nutt told the Independent. "The meeting this week was rushed through so that the chairman could leave to do a press conference when the Home Secretary wanted to do one. It's a travesty of a proper discussion, of the proper way in which you should deal with an important issue like mephedrone."

The Home Office said that Carlin's resignation was "regrettable," but that "it does not impact our plans to ban mephedrone as soon as parliamentary time allows."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


moldy (not verified)

Where do I get some? If it's illegal it must be good!

Fri, 04/09/2010 - 1:54pm Permalink
chill harry (not verified)

It is always good when someone refuses to bow to political pressure. Dr. Eric Carlin is a hero. The person who takes his place will find a public less willing to go along.

Fri, 04/09/2010 - 6:43pm Permalink
Jasper Dionisio (not verified)

"new guidelines that said scientific advisors could be fired if they "undermined" the government."

Just like in the Soviet Union.

Sun, 04/11/2010 - 12:20pm Permalink
Jean Boyd (not verified)

policies that hurt individuals. Would be nice to know "who" in the home office, says that these resignations will not affect their plans to ban. Yes it will. It is just taking time. Eventually and not soon enough these war mongers will stand alone with no employees. Their world will become smaller and smaller. Dorothy and her entourage are approaching the curtain.

Mon, 04/12/2010 - 4:33am Permalink

Do you think that OUR (U.S.) punishment based approach is what is keeping soft drugs illegal and causing thousands of murders over turf control around the U.S./ Mexican border?
Would a treatment based heroin addiction process starve the Taliban and Mexican drug cartels? i.e. Free Heroin Rx to registered junkies, with the goal of weening the individual off opiates entirely. Could Methadone Maintainance "Companies" administer doses?
Does the U.S. already have two expensive wars, when the only one you could end TODAY is the war on drugs?

Mon, 04/12/2010 - 4:48pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.