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Chief drug advisor sacked

Monday, November 2nd, 2009 Chief drug advisor sacked

The UK’s chief drug advisor has been asked to step down from his position by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, after criticising the Governments current drug policies.

Professor David Nutt, who was head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), was sacked from his position last Friday after he criticised politicians for “distorting and devaluing” scientific research in the debate over illegal drugs.

Nutt condemned the decision to reclassify cannabis to a Class B from C, after his findings suggest that the substance should not be reclassified based on its effects.

In a paper published by Centre for Crime and Justice at King’s College London, Nutt claimed that ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.

He has since claimed that drug classification was being politicised.

Alan Johnson said that he had “lost confidence” in Professor Nutt’s advice and asked him to step down from his position.

In a letter printed in today’s Guardian, Johnson has accused Professor Nutt of “campaigning against government policy”, but insisted that the decision to sack him was not based on his personal opinions.

He said: “Professor Nutt was not sacked for his views, which I respect but disagree with,” he writes.

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

In response to this decision, two senior members of the ACMD Dr Les King and Marion Walker both resigned on Sunday.

Professor Nutt has warned that more resignations may follow in protest to Alan Johnson’s decision. In a letter written to The Times, he said that many of the 28 remaining panel members, who offer unpaid independent advice, may quit.

“It seems unlikely that any ‘true’ scientist will be able to work for this, or future, home secretaries,” he said.

Nutt said his sacking had cast a “huge shadow over the relationship of science to policy.”

“I am disappointed because, to be honest, all I was trying to do was help. I wasn’t challenging the government,” said the former adviser.
“We can help them. We can give them very good advice, and it would be much more simpler if they took that advice rather than getting tangled up in other sorts of messages which frankly really do confuse the public.”

Nutt’s dismissal has upset many ACMD panellists who are concerned that politicians were cherry-picking data to suit their agenda and were getting rid of advisers if they do not like their recommendations.

The collapse of the ACMD would be a huge embarrassment to the government as it is widely thought that independent advice was essential on tackling the topic of illicit drug use.

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