Home   Contact Phil   

Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary November 2, 2009



Nutt sacking: a step backwards for drug and alcohol policy

Professor David Nutt’s resignation as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs – he was effectively sacked by home secretary Alan Johnson – is a step backwards for the UK’s drug and alcohol policy. If anyone in the drinks industry smiled at a scientist being punished for daring to venture that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis they should think again.

While these things are never completely clear-cut (how are you defining dangerous?) the observation that cannabis and ecstasy are doing less damage to people’s health than drink and tobacco should surely be uncontroversial. As Prof Nutt has also pointed out, even horse riding is a bigger killer than ecstasy.

The BBC’s Mark Easton provides an illuminating background to this affair) and you can also find the full text of Johnson’s letter in his latest blog.

This letter is an interesting read. In it, Johnson writes: “I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy”. This rather gives the game away. For all the talk about ‘evidence-based policy’ this is an admission that what the government really wants is policy-based evidence. Cannabis was reclassified from Class C to Class B for reasons of political expediency. Now the scientific evidence has to back it up.

The drinks industry might feel this is okay, since the government is favouring legal drugs over illegal drugs. But there is massive political pressure now to restrict availability of alcohol, through pricing, shorter opening hours and so on. In other words, alcohol might not be so legal as it was.

Whatever the evidence marshalled to support whatever the government wants to do, the Nutt affair demonstrates that it will be above all a political decision, not the objective rational application of scientific insight.

Back to diary archive



Writing... Journalism... Research... Awards Judging... Pub Business Advice... Pub Crawls
Contact Phil