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  Europe
Resignations Follow the Sacking of Government’s Chief Drugs Adviser in UK
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
Prof. David Nutt

London – The UK moved a little closer to becoming a totalitarian state on Friday (Oct. 30, 2009) when Prof. David Nutt, the government’s chief drugs adviser, was fired for criticising the government’s policies. In a letter to Prof. Nutt, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said that he had “lost confidence” in him and asked him to step down “with immediate effect.”

Prof. Nutt was head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), the UK’s official drugs advisory body. His sacking has prompted resignations by two advisory panel members, and others are to meet to discuss their next move.

In a lecture at King’s College, London, last week, Prof. Nutt criticised the Government’s “artificial” separation of alcohol and tobacco and illegal drugs. He said that there was only “a relatively small risk” of psychotic illness from smoking cannabis, and said that it was actually less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. Earlier this year, he claimed that taking Ecstasy was no more dangerous than riding a horse.

Prof. Nutt was also critical of the government’s political decision to reclassify Cannabis from a class C drug to Class B, against his advice. The decision was made following public concerns about the links between high-strength Cannabis, known as Skunk, and mental illness. People found in possession of class C drugs may face up to 2 years in prison, while those found guilty of possession of class B drugs can face up to 5 years.

With the government under siege and desperately trying to cling on to power at the moment, they cannot afford advisers giving advice that conflicts with their policies. However, Prof. Nutt said he refused to “mislead” people about the effects of drugs to send a “moral” message to the public.

He denied that he had been challenging the government’s drug policies and described his sacking as “a serious challenge to the value of science in relation to the government.

“We can help them. We can give them very good advice, and it would be much simpler if they took that advice rather than getting tangled up in other sorts of messages which frankly really do confuse the public.”

The professor’s sacking has received widespread criticism. Phil Willis MP, chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee has said, “It is disturbing if an independent scientist should be removed for reporting sound scientific advice.” He has said he will be writing to the Home Secretary for clarification of why Prof. Nutt had been sacked “at a time when independent scientific advice to Government is essential.”

Chris Huhne, Home Affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, described the professor’s sacking as “disgraceful”.

He said, “What is the point of having independent scientific advice if as soon as you get some advice that you don’t like, you sack the person who has given it to you.”

Claudia Rubin from Release, a national centre of expertise on drugs and drug law, called the sacking a “real shame”, and accused the government of refusing to “take any proper advice on the subject.”

Defending his position in the Guardian newspaper, Mr Johnson said, “There are not many kids in my constituency in danger of falling off a horse – there are thousands at risk of being sucked into a world of hopeless despair through drug addiction.”

Dr. Les King, one of the two fellow panel members who resigned, accused the government of denying Prof. Nutt the right to free speech. He also went on to say that their attitude to the panel had changed and that the advisory council was essentially being asked to “rubber stamp a pre-determined position.”

The remaining 28 panel members, most of whom support Professor Nutt, are to meet on Nov. 10, 2009 to discuss their next move.



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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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