Labour’s drug policy up in smoke as scientists resign from drugs Council

Five scientists have now resigned from the labour Government’s drugs advisory body Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in the wake of the sacking of Professor David Nutt, its chairman.

An ACMD insider said that the three members to quit were Dr Campbell, a former head of worldwide discovery at the drugs company Pfizer and a former President of the Royal Society of Chemistry; Dr Marsden, a research psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry; and Mr Ragan, a pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry consultant. None of the three was available for comment.

The departures of Dr Campbell and Mr Ragan would be particularly damaging as this would leave the council without representation from the pharmaceutical industry, which is required by law. Professor Walker’s resignation had already left the council without a pharmacist, another required discipline.

The Home Office has confirmed the ACMD, which is down to 25 members, must have at least 20 members to function, and that six key positions must be filled for the advisory group to function.

Professor Nutt said “I’m not surprised. The way I have been treated was reprehensible, and I’m pleased to have the support of these other council members.”
Prof Nutt, drugs cannabis, heroin, labour shambles
The trio quit the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs following a crunch meeting with Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, who earlier this month told Prof Nutt to step down after criticising Government policy.

The meeting had been called because members of the advisory body wanted reassurances from the Home Secretary that they could continue in “good conscience” and that their advice would be respected.

The row erupted after Prof Nutt said the dangers of alcohol and tobacco were more serious than those posed by Ecstasy and LSD and criticised the decision to reclassify cannabis as class B, against ACMD advice.

Prior to the news that three more had gone, Mr Johnson said he had told the body that their views will be given “due weight” in future.

He said he stood by the decision to remove his chief drugs adviser but wanted to improve relations but was “very sorry” to lose Marion Walker and Dr Les King, who quit earlier this month.

Mr Johnson said: “I understand why the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs were concerned about this.

“Their major concern – and the reason why two very good people who I’m very sorry to lose – was because they felt Prof Nutt was being dismissed for his views. I reassured them that was not the case.”

He added: “There is a duty I think to accept that politicians make the final decision.
Mr Johnson said a joint code between Government and scientists, proposed by the Royal Society, was being considered by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Government’s chief scientific adviser.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: “Whilst we backed the original decision, by now I would have expected the Home Secretary to be able to sit down with other members of the Council and rebuild confidence and stability in what they are doing. Quite clearly he has failed to do that.”

In a joint statement released by the Home Office, the meeting was described as “very constructive” but made no mention of any impending resignations.

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, said: “The latest resignations represent a deepening in the crisis of confidence of scientists in the Government — in particular, in the Home Secretary. That they come after Alan Johnson met the ACMD demonstrates that he just doesn’t get it when it comes to the importance of respecting the academic freedom and integrity of independent, unpaid, science advisers.

Ministers are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. The cost of the failure of the Home Secretary to understand the lessons of the BSE Inquiry will be poor policy — unless the Prime Minister acts decisively to bring the Home Office and rest of Government into line with established good practice.

“By clumsily and unfairly sacking David Nutt, Alan Johnson has been rewarded with five resignations in protest. That takes a certain kind of ineptitude.”

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