Evan sticks up for drug adviser in ecstasy row

by Stephen Tall on February 11, 2009

As the Guardian reports:

The government’s drugs adviser last night apologised for saying that the risk in taking ecstasy was no worse than in riding a horse. Home secretary Jacqui Smith had yesterday carpeted Dr David Nutt over comments that emerged 48 hours before his committee was expected to recommend downgrading the drug. …

Smith’s attack on Nutt, the new chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, comes when this week it will publish a report expected to recommend downgrading ecstasy from class A to class B. Smith has made clear she will veto the council’s view as she rejected its advice last year not to reclassify cannabis.

But Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, the party’s science spokesman, has intervened to defend Dr Nutt, arguing for a rational evidence-based approach to drugs policy:

The problem with putting ecstasy in Class A… is that if thousands of young people take ‘e’ every weekend, and they see that it is in the same class as heroin and cocaine and crack cocaine, then it is hard to argue that those are particularly more dangerous than ecstasy.”

In any given story concerning illegal drugs, what’s the most likely outcome – that the government will choose to ignore medical experts in order to sound tougher-than-thou; or that the government will recognise the public are perfectly capable of understanding current drugs policy isn’t working, and look at measures which might actually reduce drug addiction and the social priblems it causes?

Home secretary Jacqui Smith, in her knee-jerk condemnation of Dr Nutt, has merely confirmed yet again Labour’s total inability to consider radical reforms which might just work if there’s any chance they might upset the ugly right-wingism of the Daily Mail.

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Listening to Dr Nutt on PM, I got the distinct impression that any apology he might have given to Jacqui Smith was more along the lines of “I’m very sorry (that you’re a complete and utter idiot)”.

As he pointed out, we just have to hope that young people are clever enough not to think “I’ve been taking this class A ecstasy for ages with no bad effects, so I can take other class A drugs and I’ll be fine with those too.”

by Costigan Quist on February 11, 2009 at 6:38 pm. Reply #

I actually heard this exchange on Today in Parliament on Monday night and I thought the best thing about Evan’s intervention (and I was intending to blog about it too but won’t bother now it was so worthy of attention) was his defense of David Nutt on the basis that he was not here and able to answer for himself when she laid into him so viciously:

“But, in questions to the House of Commons Speaker, Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris said Prof Nutt was a “distinguished scientist” and asked whether it was “right to criticise him here when he cannot answer back for what is set out in a scientific publication”.

“He added: “What’s the future for scientific independence if she [Ms Smith] asks that scientists apologise for their views?””

by Jock on February 12, 2009 at 12:27 am. Reply #

The Labour Party’s behaviour in this has been shocking. It’s now clear that they have sold out utterly to the tabloid view of scientific evidence. I.e. that it doesnt matter.

For an ignorant politician like Smith to attack a distinguished scientist and demand he apologise for stating the obvious is a sign that we are entering a dark period of dis-enlightenment.

by Mark Wright on February 12, 2009 at 9:13 am. Reply #

I have not forgotten that Jacqui Smith herself once took drugs. It is a pity that we cannot tar her with her own brush retrospectively, and encumber her with the criminal record she so blithely inflicts on other victims.

by S Grist on February 12, 2009 at 3:39 pm. Reply #


I have posted a rather different view as above.

by David Raynes on February 12, 2009 at 6:46 pm. Reply #

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